VA Employee James O’Neal Hughes Receives POW Medal



James O’ Neal Hughes was a staff sergeant for the Defense Intelligence Agency when he and 64 other Americans were taken hostage in Iran in 1979.  He was formally awarded the Defense Department’s Prisoner of War Medal (POW) at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colo. this past August – 32 years later.

Now a retired master sergeant from the U.S. Air Force, Hughes was 30 years-old when Iranians seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. He was among 13 African-American or female hostages released after about two weeks because their captors claimed they felt sympathetic for suppressed minorities.

Although he was free, Hughes admitted he was not happy with the reason for being let go.   “The attempt by the Iranians to divide along gender and racial lines did not set well with me,” he said. “Part of my mental health treatment was dealing with the guilt of leaving others behind.”

Hughes also says the hostage takeover proved to be more than what he initially imagined. “I thought it would be over in a few hours and that they just wanted to take over the Embassy to make a statement,” said Hughes.  “After being searched, tied up and blind folded, and marched out of the Embassy, I understood that it was something different.  During long periods of isolation I would have thoughts of never seeing my family again and that I would die blindfolded and tied to a chair.”

James O’Neal Hughes at his award ceremony

The Pentagon authorized the medal for Hughes in 2003.  It was delivered in 2011. The reason for the delay isn’t clear.  Despite the long wait, the ordeal did not taint Hughes’ dedication to serve the Nation and he stayed the course until retirement. “I did not try to get any recognition nor a medal,” Hughes said. “It [the capture] happened to me and that’s just the way it was.  I moved on and continued to serve my country.”

Although Hughes received his POW medal late he says the recognition has helped him. “It is kind of therapeutic for me and a moment of healing, he said.  “I have been dealing with this a long time.”

Hughes, a native of New Orleans, La., currently works as a staff assistant at Fort Logan National Cemetery.  Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, Steve L. Muro addressed Hughes bravery in a formal letter stating, “When we raise our right hand and swear an oath to the United States, we don’t know exactly where that journey will take us, or what will be asked of us. Few of us have our courage and devotion to duty tested the way you did, as a hostage in a hostile foreign land—but every one of us would hope to conduct ourselves just as honorably under the same circumstances.

While others would have quit the military following such a harrowing ordeal, you continued to wear the uniform, retiring from the Air Force at the rank of master sergeant. Still today, as a staff assistant at Fort Logan, you serve the Nation by caring for your fellow Veterans and their families in their hour of need. We are grateful for your safe return 33 years ago, and for your many years of dedicated service and sacrifice.”

Richelle Taylor is a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration, and an editor of NCA News an internal newsletter.

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Richelle Taylor

Comments

  1. DM    

    Having been in Germany during the Iran hostage events and having been in the PI for the return of our POWs, and having read almost all of the data on Nam vets, and having been at USAF Academy and SERE, etc., I am taken back by this medal award (though it does meet the criteria).

    No one should accept early release. That was the stand in ‘nam and it should be the stand now.

  2. Thomas Zamora    

    Yes the medical and mental health VA is a very good group of people. BUT they use meds (drugs) and counciling to make us feel and live safer. On the other ass end of the VA, better known as the VAB. they are FUCKING FUUL OF SHIT, LIES, AND NO HELP. I have been waiting for 14 years for my PTSD claim to come through, even been to the VAB’s doctors that have cofirmed I suffer from savear PTSD related to my 4 tours in the Republic of South Viet Nam.
    Each and every time I ask what is going on with my claim I get a letter back saying: We are reviewing your claim however because of the back log it will take a little more time, thank you for understanding.

    14 GOING ON 15 YEARS? AND THEY STILL NEED MORE TIME?

    FOR GOD’S SAKE, I HAVE TO BE THE MOST FUCKED UP VET EVER! BECAUSE I JUST DON’T GET THIS!

    Why is it that the veterans coming back here (not home) from the middle east get their claim approved with in 2 years and recieve compensation already? What about this back log thing? Oh I know they do not have to wait because of the back log.

    No they go to the head of the line and we old Viet Nam vets have to wait or as tha VAB says and hopes very much for is that we DIE AND GO AWAY.

    FUCK YOU VETERANS ADMINISTRATION, AND FUCK YOUR MISSION STATEMENT THAT YOU HAVE ON YOU LOBBY WALLS, JUST PLAIN AND VERY ANGRY FUCK YOU, FUCK YOU, UP YOU ASS, FUCK YOU!

  3. Vicente Frances    

    Thank you Sgt Hughes for your sacrifice and service. People like you makes us proud of being Americans. Hope the medal and recognition will help the healing process and may God continue to bless you. Again a great big THANK YOU.

  4. Byron Smalls    

    Great article and thank you Master Sergeant James O’ Neal Hughes for your service!

  5. K.C.    

    Thank you for your service James O’ Neal Hughes! The medal was long overdue.

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