PLYMOUTH − Bob Hughes has certainly enjoyed a life filled with adventure.
“My father has always had so much energy and drive, a passion for life, which he exudes even at age 100,” his younger daughter, Alexia, says.
I recently listened to Hughes as he provided all the elements of a good story, speaking with confidence, candor and humor.
As interesting as it was, I was also impressed by how he handles the present − accepting both what it provides and what has been taken away.
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Legally blind due to glaucoma and macular degeneration, he is a resident of Newfield House, a nursing home overlooking Plymouth Harbor. He spends much of his time alone in his spacious room, well cared for, with an attentive family who call daily and visit often.
“We had some great experiences,” he said. “And now I take care of myself as much as I can. I can spend almost a whole day taking care of myself.”
In his youth, he believed “in hard work and whenever I got a job, I made it pay.”
His job took him, his wife, Jean, and their four children for long stays overseas.
Now, at 100, life has naturally slowed down.
Jean died in June 2020 at age 92 of Alzheimer’s disease, after also being cared for at Newfield House. His family includes two daughters, Alexia, of Pennsylvania, and Annette, of New Jersey; two sons, Glenn, of Florida, and Stephen, of Plymouth; four grandchildren; and three great-grandsons.
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While it is “tough being alone, in one room,” he said, he fills his time by listening to the radio, talking on the phone, listening to books on tape about World War II and attending weekly Bible study on the phone with the men’s group from North Community Church in Marshfield Hills.
A longtime friend, Roger Williams, comes every Thursday afternoon and reads to him. The church pastor, the Rev. Ann Aaberg, visits weekly, as do others.
All this connects him to the people and beliefs that helped shape his life.
“We’ve had some great experiences in life, a good life,” he said. Reading and the visitors “reminds you of what you did.”
Every day he finds a few moments to do his exercises in his room, on his walker, moving to “The Blue Danube” waltz.
Hughes grew up outside Akron, Ohio. In 1932, when he was 9, he and his younger brother were diagnosed with tuberculosis in their neck glands. They spent two years in a sanitorium while their mother was treated in a hospital for tuberculosis in her lungs.
“That experience, with 100 other children of all ages, I learned a lot of stuff I never would have learned if I was living with my parents,” he said.
When a group of boys challenged him to a fight, he remembered his father’s boxing lesson to “get the first punch in and smacked (the other boy) right in the face. And he quit and I was a hero.”
His father was an electrician and, although money was very tight, they made it through the Great Depression. He “peddled papers” to buy a bike and his clothes, including the graduation suit he wore to Cuyahoga Falls High School in January 1941.
After Pearl Harbor, he worked in a factory making barrage balloons − large, tethered balloons used to defend ground targets against aircraft attack − and in September 1942 he enlisted in the Army Artillery, and then the Army Air Forces. He was 19.
Trained as a navigator aboard B-24 Liberators, he became a first lieutenant in the Eighth Army Air Force and completed 33 missions from East Anglia, England, over German territory. Describing red-hot antiaircraft artillery shot from the ground exploding around him, he said, “At 19, you don’t think you are going to get killed.”
After the war, he attended college for two years and then headed for New York City with the ambition to work for “an international company” in Europe.
“Having been overseas during the war, I got a sight of other places,” he said. “I just liked the idea of working with a company, but somewhere else.” Westinghouse hired him to sell motors by mail overseas from New York.
“I was an eager beaver, but not a college graduate or engineer,” he said.
On a blind date, he met Jean Eberhard, a recent graduate of Wheaton College who was visiting New York from Waltham.
“The door opened and Jean was there and I took one look and said, ‘That’s it.’ And she felt the same way.”
He began driving to Waltham every weekend and, in six months, they were married in 1949 and later settled on Long Island.
In 1964, Westinghouse transferred him to England. He soon jumped at the chance to run all of the Westinghouse Middle East operations from Lebanon, where he and his family stayed for 11 years. In 1967, when Jean was about to deliver their fourth child, they had to be evacuated due to the Arab-Israeli War. Alexia was born in Athens.
They returned to Beirut until 1976, when the civil war there forced them to leave. He retired in 1986 and they moved from Pittsburgh to Duxbury to a house Jean’s aunt owned.
He and Jean were drawn to North Community Church in Marshfield Hills, became active on several committees, started a visitation program and “had 30 years of wonderful friendships,” Hughes said. Many of their church friends came to his 100th birthday party at Newfield House.
Happily, at 100, there are still surprises.
On his birthday, he reconnected with the only other crew member from his B-24 Liberator who is still alive: tail gunner Mike Minichiello, 97, of Ohio. They spoke by phone and enjoyed a “lucid, animated” conversation, Hughes said.
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More accolades for Bob Boyd
Historian and writer Wayne Miller of Linden Ponds retirement community in Hingham emailed about the Feb. 6 column on Bob Boyd, 92, who is blind and plays bridge at The Puritan Bridge Club in Braintree:
“What a winner you found with Bob Boyd. He’s a one in a million, or maybe 10 million. My wife Ellen and I have been playing bridge since the early 1970s. Sure wish we could memorize the cards, and we can see. What a skill!
“Bridge is the most sophisticated and difficult card game, and there is no luck in accumulating 300 Grand Master points as Bob Boyd did. It’s all skill, an amazing achievement!”
Reach Sue Scheible at [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Word War II navigator Bob Hughes turns 100, looks back on ‘a good life’
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