As Army Sgt. John E. Hughes and his fellow soldiers boarded naval transports in the summer of 1945, they faced a mission few people today can even imagine: invading Japan to end World War II.
The United States and its Allies had drawn up invasion plans for the island nation, tapping Gen. Douglas MacArthur to lead an attack some believed would be 10 times as costly as the invasion of Normandy on the European front.
“It was the largest armada of ships I’d ever seen,” the now-99-year-old Meadowlakes man recalled. “You just saw ships as far as you could see.”
He and fellow Meadowlakes resident Art Strickland, who celebrates his 99th birthday in mid-November, are the guests of honor at the Hidden Falls Country Club Men’s Golf Association’s annual awards ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 10. Organizer Al Moss said this isn’t the usual date for the ceremony, but with Veterans Day on Thursday, Nov. 11, and the two men reaching their 99th year, it seemed as good a time as ever.
“We wanted to do something for these two men for their service in World War II, but, also, they’ve made it 99 years, and that’s impressive,” he said. Strickland and Hughes are among the 240,000 World War II veterans still alive out of the more than 16 million American men and women who served in uniform during the war.
Strickland served as a B-26 Martin Marauder pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps. He towed targets while stationed at Cherry Point, North Carolina, after being commissioned in November 1943. His flight training didn’t start in the military. He earned his private pilot’s license while attending Schreiner College (now University) in Kerrville.
Following a stint with the B-26, the Corps moved him to a C-46 transport and sent him to the Pacific theater. Most of his time in the Pacific was after conflicts with Japan had subsided. His flights took him to Guam, Japan, China, the Philippines, and other locations.
Hughes, a draftee from Cumberland, Maryland, had already spent the past several years in the Army as a member of the 33rd Division before boarding a ship to Japan. He served on a 155mm howitzer crew.
Hughes and his fellow soldiers helped mop up Saipan, with a stop in Guam.
Before the pending, massive invasion of Japan could begin, however, President Harry Truman authorized the dropping of two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending the war in the Pacific.
“Had they not surrendered after the bombs, we were going to have to invade,” Hughes said.
Instead, he landed in Japan as part of an occupation force, even before the Allies and Japan signed the peace treaty.
After such a tenacious war, the soldiers weren’t sure what to expect as they disembarked. Would the Japanese resist?
“There wasn’t much in Osaka,” Hughes recalled. “It had been bombed quite a bit.”
Hughes and his group ended up in Nara, Japan, located east of Osaka.
He only stayed a few months before rotating out and returning home. He was discharged in February 1946.
Strickland remained in the Marine Corps, flying around the Pacific before being discharged from active duty in January 1947. He remained in the USMC reserves until November 1956.
Both Strickland and Hughes had great lives after the war. In fact, when speaking with Strickland, he breezed past his years in the military to talk about his career as a Presbyterian minister.
After completing his college education at the University of Texas at Austin, Strickland entered the Austin Presbyterian Seminary in 1949. During his three years there, he and a few other former military aviators founded The Gospel Airlift.
On Saturdays, they’d fly from Austin in a Stinson V77 to places such as Monroe and Shreveport in Louisiana or Texarkana, where they would preach at churches without serving pastors. The churches put them up for the night and took them back to the airports after the services.
One stop took Strickland to Tallulah, Louisiana, a little west of Vicksburg, Mississippi, a place where he accepted his first call to serve as minister and met his future wife, Mildred, a teacher. The two wed in 1954. They eventually landed in Marble Falls, where he preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and she taught for the Marble Falls Independent School District. After retirement, they stayed in the community and helped found The Helping Center of Marble Falls, of which they were active volunteers. Art Strickland also volunteered at the Marble Falls Library Thrift Store and was a member of the Lions Club.
The ministry was a perfect fit for Art. When he and his siblings were growing up in the Presbyterian Orphanage Home and School in Itasca, Texas, he was shown the love of God and the value of loving other people.
“So, being a pastor was just an opportunity of teaching others the love of God and caring for others,” he said.
As for Hughes, following the war, he returned to the East Coast, where he took a job as a meter reader. He married Norine Teter, but they didn’t stay in the East for long.
Still young, Hughes left his steady job, and he and Norine boarded a bus headed west. All they had was $21 in life savings. During a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, John stepped off the bus and noticed a Southern Union Gas company office nearby.
“I went in and asked, ‘Do you have any openings for meter readers?’” he recalled.
The man at the desk tossed him an application, and the young couple watched the bus roll out toward Phoenix without them. John carved out a career with Southern Union that took him to many places, including Austin. About 30 years ago, he and Norine, who died in 2018, decided to retire in the area, settling in Meadowlakes.
As Meadowlakes residents, Hughes and Strickland became regulars on the golf course and with the Men’s Golf Association, making a host of friends. Now, those friends are thanking them for their military service and years of commitment to the community.
“These two men have mentored so many others, and they served their country,” Moss said. “I think that’s worth celebrating and saying thank you to them.”