William J. Hughes

William J. Hughes, originally from Florence, New Jersey, and lately of Spring Hill, Florida, died 3 Sep 17.

Bill grew up in Florence and, after graduating high school there, joined the US Army. After basic training, he went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas to train as a medical aid man and then deployed to Vietnam in 1964 where he volunteered to join the 57th Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance) as a flight medic. The 57th was the first helicopter ambulance unit in Vietnam and became the basis for the doctrine and tactics that other units would follow later in that war. Known far and wide by their call sign of “Dust Off”, the 57th was responsible for saving thousands of lives. Under the tutelage of Major Charles Kelly, Bill and his fellow crew members would develop the mantra for all Dust Off units that followed “When we have your wounded!” As a flight medic, Bill went on to earn numerous combat awards for personal heroism.

Bill had an artistic bent and designed the unit patch worn with pride by fellow members of the 57thand all who followed. He also helped design the patch worn by members of the 82nd Medical Detachment (Helicopter Ambulance), the second unit to deploy to Vietnam.

Because of his many talents, Bill was well liked by all members of his unit and was a personal favorite of its Operations Officer, Captain Paul Bloomquist. As his tour of duty was nearing its end, Bill asked to extend against the advice of Captain Bloomquist and the unit commander. On 12 Nov 65, he was seriously wounded after a bullet penetrated his femoral artery. He was rushed to the nearest medical facility where a waiting doctor applied a hemostat to stop the profuse bleeding, thus saving his life. After initial care, he was placed on an Air Force medical evacuation aircraft bound for Japan, but Bill knew the seriousness of his wounds would not allow him to return to Vietnam, so he began talking with Comic Actress Martha Raye who happened to be on the same flight. She was an honorary Lieutenant Colonel in the US Special Forces and had been visiting troops in Vietnam and she was somehow able to get him sent on to the United States.

Bill spent several months recuperating at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania and at his home in Florence. He eventually returned to duty and was later promoted, but his injury continued to plague him to the point that he had to be medically discharged. He then joined the faculty of Trenton Junior College in New Jersey where he taught art and photography. He eventually retired to Spring Hill where he began tracking down fellow Dust Off comrades. He was very successful with this effort and helped form the Dust Off Association where he was a frequent and enthusiastic attendee at its annual reunions.

One of his major contributions was the production and printing of a major historical three ring binder entitled “VIETNAM PHOTOS 1964-1965, 57TH MEDICAL DETACHMENT (HELICOPTER AMBULANCE).” A copy of this major effort is on file at the Army Medical Department Museum at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Bill was also very interested in music and one of his favorite life quotes was from the poet Shelly. “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts”. And so it is for those who knew and served with Bill.

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