From West Point to the Westside
Distinguished Graduate award honors Dave Hughes’ military, civilian career

       “Disregarding the concentrated fire of the foe, he charged to the crest of the hill, fired his automatic weapon until it no longer functioned and then pressed the attack solely with grenades. His audacious assault completely demoralized the enemy and, as he moved among them fighting fiercely, his men charged up the slope and engaged the hostile troops in close combat. Imbued with his own fearlessness, the friendly troops fought their way over the crest of the hill, inflicting heavy casualties on the foe and securing the objective.”
       From the Citation for the Distinguished Service Cross for Lt. David R. Hughes, Korea, 1951.
       

       Dave Hughes doesn't remember everything about the 7th Cavalry charge he led up Hill 347 on Oct. 6, 1951. He recalls the part about his gun failing and even running out of grenades himself. No problem… The Chinese were throwing grenades at him. So he caught one, or maybe two, in the air (he's not sure) and threw them back, as well as picking up ones from the ground and throwing them before they exploded.
       What he remembers for sure is that he was out in front, leading by example, knowing the hill had to be taken.
        In a figurative sense, that was just one of many hills the longtime Westside resident, now 75, has charged up over the years. Just as the Chinese soldiers learned that bloody day near the present Dimilitarized Zone in Korea, it's well nigh impossible for anyone - be it government officials, military chiefs or technology gurus - to try to deter Hughes from his goals.
        Recognition for a lifetime of achievement came to Hughes last week from his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point, in the form of the highly coveted Distinguished Graduate Award.
        Similar to a hall of fame, the Academy's Association of Graduates presents the award annually to a handful of retired West Point graduates. The AOG selects from a large pool of candidates who have been deemed worthy of nomination by West Point Societies or class presidents.
       Out of 60,000 graduates since 1802, only 53 have been so honored. The most highly decorated member of his class, Hughes was nominated in 2000, finally attaining the laurel this year on the third try. That's hardly disrespectful. No nominees have ever been selected the first time they were nominated. Hughes even got a chuckle at the expense of famous Nixon-era diplomat Alexander Haig ('47), who didn't make it till the fourth time.
       Just to be nominated, a person “has to have a helluva record,” Hughes said. “I'm profoundly moved.”
        His 1950 class alone had two Distinguished Graduates before him - Charles Gabriel, the former Air Force Chief of Staff; and Fidel Ramos, who became president of the Phillipines. Another from the Class of '50, General John Wickham, a four-star general, has yet to make the list.
       The nomination letter, submitted in November 2000 by the West Point Society of Anapolis, provides a lengthy summary of Hughes' achievements.
       “David Hughes is an American original, truly a modern renaissance man,” the letter reads. “He was a superlative fighting soldier in two wars. [Note: He also received awards for bravery as a battalion leader in Vietnam.] He has been an admired military educator in the classroom and on the troop line, and in retirement has been a prominent civic leader in his community.
       “On active duty he has been a visionary problem solver at the troop echelons and a political-military strategist at the highest levels. Since his retirement he has become an innovative pioneering information technologist, a communicator of ideas, an influential voice and mover and shaker in the tumultuous, expanding world of the Internet and wireless.”
        One point the letter makes is that “hundreds, even thousands, of West Pointers over the years have distinguished themselves on active duty in like manner to David Hughes. What clearly sets him apart and more than justifies his selection as a Distinguished Graduate is what he has done in the almost thirty years since he retired in 1973.”
        The letter proceeds to note his leading such efforts as the Colorado Springs bicentennial celebration (after the city had backed away from it as too expensive), the revitalization of Old Colorado City (which was in danger of facing an urban renewal wrecking ball in the late '70s) and the movement for widespread computer connectivity (including online libraries and networking to remote areas).
       Although proud of his achievements, Hughes said he “didn't think he would get it (the award). I'm too much of a maverick.”
       Hughes describes his leaving the military as a tough decision. He was working at Fort Carson for a man he highly respected, Gen. Bernard Rogers, who later became the NATO supreme commander. A colonel at the time, Hughes thinks he might have made general if he'd stayed. But that would have meant going with Rogers to Washington, which is exactly the wrong place for someone who likes to be at the forefront of events.
       “This is a grassroots nation,” Hughes said. “Anything worth a damn starts at the grassroots. By the time it gets to Washington, it's too late.”

Westside Pioneer article