Leading the way at this year’s Whitestone Memorial Day Parade is grand marshal Corporal John McHugh Sr., a U.S. army veteran who served during World War II.
McHugh, a 95-year-old Whitestone resident, who was placed in the First Infantry Division and fought in the Battle of Normandy, France, in the D-Day invasion, is honored to lead the parade on May 27 at noon at Whitestone Memorial Park, located at 149th Street and 15th Drive.
“He was always my hero — his bravery and patriotism,” said McHugh’s son, John Jr. “People like my father who fought in that way gave us the country we had today. I don’t know what this world would be like if we didn’t have people like my father. He is up on a pedestal that I couldn’t reach if I tried. If I thought that I could be half the man my father was, I would be happy. He’s a great man.”
After graduating from Morris High School in the Bronx in 1942, McHugh and his friends enlisted in the army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He completed basic training at Fort McClelland in Alabama and was shipped out of New York on the Queen Elizabeth to the UK.
“They were very patriotic,” said John Jr. “At that time every young man in the country wanted to go fight in the way. They felt they had to protect the country, and he felt that he had to protect his mother.”
Before landing in Normandy on D-Day on June 6, 1944, the soldiers were throwing up their breakfast all over each other in the cramped confines of the landing crafts. The front of McHugh’s landing craft dropped down at around 7:30 a.m. and he along with 10 to 12 other soldiers jumped off into the water up to their necks. The landing craft exploded behind him after being hit with a German 88 shell.
McHugh, 20, was carrying the tripod of a .30-caliber machine gun and the soldier carrying his gun was killed. The young soldier was left without his machine gun crawling on the beach under fire all day.
After D-Day, McHugh and others in the First Infantry Division, spent months fighting the Nazis at the historic battles of Hurtgen Forest, Aachen, Crucifix Hill and the Bulge.
While stationed in Europe, McHugh sent all of his money he earned back home to his mother, a widow. In 1945, for seven months after the war ended, McHugh was in the Army of Occupation before he was honorably discharged and sent home.
During his tour of duty, the World War II veteran became a recipient of several medals and awards such as the Silver Star for gallantry in action, and the Bronze Star and European Theater of Operations ribbon, which features four bronze stars signifying the major battles he was in and a silver arrowhead for the invasion of Normandy.
Additionally, McHugh received two presidential unit citations for the battle of Crucifix Hill and Hurtgen Forest. Belgium recognized him with the Fort Eger badge for action during the war in the country.
In 2014, the World War II hero was inducted in the state Senate Veterans Hall of Fame and was one of the honorees at the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade.
The Patriach of the McHugh Family was born on March 6, 1924, in Union City, NJ, to Catherine Martin and John McHugh. He is also known as Dad, Pop, Uncle Johnny and is a first-generation Irish-American.
John’s grandfather, James McHugh, fought in the Civil War and returned to Ireland, where he lived to be 103 years old. His father, John McHugh, fought in WWI. In the Argonne forest, he received six bullet wounds in his thigh and side. He laid out in no man’s land for three days where he was gassed and developed pleurisy pneumonia before being discharged and sent back home.
McHugh moved to Whitestone in 1955 with his wife, Rosie McGee, where they raised their three sons. McHugh still resides in Whitestone today and has three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He lead a career as a Transit Authority conductor and a private investigator, and recently retired last March working in security.
In June of 1987, John and his sons returned to Normandy where they stood on the beach looking up at the cliffs that had to be climbed on D-Day. He spent time alone walking through the National Cemetery looking for friends who had not made it through D-Day.
Members of Community Board 7 recently approved a street co-naming in honor of McHugh, that was spearheaded by his cousin Kevin Shields and Kim Cody, president of the Whitestone Civic Taxpayer’s Association. They’re planning to schedule the ceremony on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day, 75 years after the invasion of Normandy, said John Jr.