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Navy veterans honored; Hughes Sr., Hughes Jr. and Beshai receive quilts.

Byline: Ellie Oleson

AUBURN -- The Auburn Webster Lodge of Elks surprised three U.S. Navy veterans with a little extra love on Valentine's Day.

World War II veteran Fred Hughes Sr. of Worcester and Vietnam veterans Fred Hughes Jr. of Oxford and Peter Beshai Sr. of Worcester were surprised with Quilts of Valor and honored by family and friends at a ceremony at the Elks Lodge in Auburn.

The elder Mr. Hughes, 90, said, "I had no idea. It was a complete surprise.''

Spencer resident Theresa Perreault, regional coordinator in Massachusetts for the Quilts of Valor Foundation, presented each of the men with a red, white and blue quilt created by foundation members.

Each full-size quilt was made as a thank you and to honor the veterans for their service.

The younger Mr. Hughes, 68, and Mr. Beshai, 65, are members of the local Elks and ride together in the Vietnam Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

Mr. Beshai served in the Navy from 1968 to 1970 as a seaman aboard the destroyer USS James E. Kyes in Vietnam and the Philippines, among other sites.

Mr. Hughes Jr., who is originally from Worcester, left Burncoat High School to join the U.S. Air Force when he had just turned 17. He worked as a jet mechanic for two years at Lackland Air Force Base and in Plattsburgh, New York, before he decided to leave to join the Navy for the next two years.

"I put in for Vietnam, but the Air Force wanted me to stay. I joined the Navy on condition that I go to Vietnam,'' he said.

He soon donned a fire-resistant "hot suit'' and launched and recovered aircraft on the deck of the USS America supercarrier off the coast of Vietnam in the Tonkin Gulf.

"We had planes crashing every day. There were some bad times, but if I could fight now, I'd do it again,'' he said.

After he returned to the United States, he served as sign director for Saxton Sign Co. for 13 years, erecting signs, including one 250 feet high over a bank in Norwalk, Connecticut, before buying the North End Pub in North Oxford, which he ran for 26 years before retiring. He also married and had three children.

"My daughter is one year younger than my sister,'' he said.

The elder Mr. Hughes and his wife, the former Rita Vigliatura, 88, are both Worcester natives, who met at a birthday party when she was 14 and he was 16. Two years later, they were engaged. They married in 1945 and plan to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in July.

She was a school student and he was at work at Worcester Wood Heel Co., making wood shoe heels, on Dec. 7, 1941, when they learned that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese and the country was going to war.

"I got drafted in 1943, and told them I wanted to join the Marines. The man said I was in the Navy, stamped my papers, and that was it. I was in the Navy,'' Mr. Hughes Sr. said.

Seaman 1st Class Hughes was stationed aboard the USS Lewis Hancock Fletcher-class destroyer that sailed from New York on Dec. 6, 1943, and arrived in Pearl Harbor on Christmas Day.

"I ran the captain's gig, taking the captain wherever he wanted to go, sometimes to get drunk. Many times, I carried him back on my shoulder,'' Mr. Hughes said.

He traveled from Pearl Harbor to the invasion of the Marshall Islands, then Kwajalein Atoll, Truk, Guam, Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Marianas, Medway and beyond.

"I was in 13 major engagements and got three Bronze Stars and a Silver Star,'' Mr. Hughes said.

Miraculously, there were only four casualties aboard the ship in 16 months of heavy battle in the Pacific.

"All the battles were the same. Bullets flying everywhere and the kamikazes crashing into the ship. They hit the mast and the stack but went right through into the water. Those kamikaze planes were made of canvas and just fell apart,'' Mr. Hughes said.

Other Japanese soldiers were less intent on dying.

"We were up in the hills on the islands, and I saw Japanese get in the chow line. We let 'em in, fed 'em, then locked 'em up. They were starving to death on all the islands. When you're starving to death, you'll do anything to eat,'' Mr. Hughes said.

He did return home long enough for a wedding.

"We don't have many pictures. There was no film. They used everything for the war effort. Our food was all rationed. I stopped eating sugar then,'' Mrs. Hughes said.

Her husband said, "We didn't have a military wedding, but there was a gun. Her father had a rifle.''

The couple had six children, starting with Fred Jr., who was born in 1946, then Darlene Kornichuk of Tennessee, followed by Clifford, who served in the U.S. Marines before his death in 2005.

Next were Worcester residents Paul, who served in the U.S. Army; John; and Cheri Downer, who was born when her eldest brother was 25.

Mr. Hughes Sr. worked at several area companies before serving as foreman and then superintendent at David Clark Co., where he was a lead sewing machine mechanic who worked on astronaut clothing and other products.

Mr. and Mrs. Hughes have 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Grandchild Sammy Kornichuk is serving in the U.S. Navy.

Mrs. Hughes' brother, Joseph Arthur Vigliatura, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was a Worcester police officer when he died unexpectedly at home at age 34, leaving six children.

Both the elder and younger Mr. Hughes have strong memories of one Naval tradition, their first crossing of the equator.

"I crossed the equator eight times. In the Navy, you're a Pollywog before you cross, then you're a Shellback,'' the elder Mr. Hughes said.

When one of his ship captains made his first crossing, Seaman Hughes shaved an X on the officer's head after he was tossed into the stockade during his initiation.

"It is kind of brutal,'' the younger Mr. Hughes said.

Part of his crossing ceremony included kissing the well-greased and dirtied stomach of the "Royal Baby,'' the oldest Shellback onboard.

Despite that, both Mr. Hughes senior and junior said they would recommend U.S. Navy to anyone who wants to serve their country and see the world.

Mr. Hughes Jr. said, "The Navy's the best, and you get to see and do a lot more.''
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Title Annotation:Weeklies
Author:Oleson, Ellie
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:9VIET
Date:Mar 6, 2015
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