Military saber cuts cake for Westside hero’s 90th
In point of fact, he's David Ralph Hughes, the Westside's hero - a decorated veteran of two wars and the man who led Old Colorado City's renaissance into the 21st century.
He turned 90 in May.
Surrounded by friends and family, Hughes celebrated that birthday at the Old Colorado City History Center. Invitees were treated to cake - sliced by Dave with his West Point saber - and a slide show telling the story of his life.
Some of that story precedes his birthdate of May 18, 1928. Proud of his Welsh heritage, Hughes points to a genealogical line that includes “many generations of Welsh Calvinist ministers (as far back as 1588).”
The Hughes family emigrated to the United States in 1870, when his grandfather Eben was 2 years old.
Growing up in Denver and Colorado Springs, Hughes lost his father (also named David Ralph) at age 7 and was raised by his mother Helen.
He attended the Colorado Military Academy from 1940-46 and received an appointment to the United States Military Academy (aka West Point).
After graduating in 1950, the freshly minted second lieutenant was soon thrown into the front lines of the Korean War. It was flaring back up, thanks to the intervention of Communist China on the side of its vassal country, North Korea. This started a military career in which Hughes also fought in Vietnam, leading dozens of helicopter-transported assault missions in 1967-68.
He received numerous medals for bravery, including the Distinguished Service Cross (the nation's second highest military award after the Medal of Honor), three Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars. He also received two Purple Hearts for the times he was wounded (not counting a close-proximity U.S. tank blast in Korea that cost him 70 percent of his hearing).
He received the Distinguished Service Cross in Korea after regrouping his badly mauled Company K of the 7th Cavalry for one last, desperate assault to take Hill 347 (nicknamed “Bloody Baldy”) from the Chinese on Oct. 7, 1951. The location is now part of the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea.
Here is an excerpt from the official military citation describing what Hughes did to earn the Cross: “Reaching the hard-pressed men, he shouted words of encouragement to them and then single-handedly advanced against the enemy positions. 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.”
During all but his first three years of military service, Hughes was a family man. He married Patricia (Patsy) Simpson in 1953, and the couple remained together until her death in 2011. Their three children are David III, Rebecca and Edward.
Having attained the rank of colonel, Hughes retired from the U.S. Army in 1973. He was then the chief of staff at Fort Carson. During his five-year span there, he helped usher in the Army's transition to an all-volunteer entity.
His involvement with Old Colorado City and the Westside stemmed from heading up Colorado Springs' activities for the state's 1976 Centennial. In the years that followed, he continued to work with merchants and government officials on public improvements and financial incentives to revitalize “Old Town.” His efforts included helping start the Old Colorado City Historical Society (serving as its treasurer for many years) and what's now the Old Colorado City Special Improvement Maintenance District.
After the military, his second career was in wireless technology. Hughes ran a nationwide, “electronic bulletin board” in the years before the modern Internet and owned his own business, Old Colorado City Communications, for 23 years before closing it in 2007.
In the late 1990s, the National Science Foundation awarded him seven grants totaling $2 million, which sent him to various spots around the world, establishing wireless communications in rural areas.
The awards Hughes has received since becoming a civilian outnumber even those from his military years. He describes as his “most cherished recognition” the Distinguished Graduate Award from West Point, which takes into account military as well as civilian achievement.
Another one he enjoys is the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which he received in 1993 for his technological endeavors. Four years later, he helped famous actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr receive the same award, after he stumbled upon her nearly forgotten frequency-hopping patent while doing his own wireless research.
An honor that's in Westside public view is the city-ordained “Dave Hughes cyberpath,” marked since 1998 by a plaque between 25th Street and an Old Colorado City public parking lot (one of the three that Hughes had a hand in establishing and making free).
Despite his close involvement with Old Colorado City's revitalization, Hughes is proud of the fact that he never sought to profit from it. His only Westside investment was the small house (with a rear cottage) on North 24th Street, where he and Patsy moved the family in 1977.
Asked how it feels to turn 90, Hughes admitted, “I don't really like it.” He feels as if age is slowing him down; however, he is happy to note that his three offspring live in town (with David just three blocks away). “They really take care of me,” he grinned.
A grandson, Stacy, “is a crackerjack Army Sergeant E-7 who has fought in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait and has run a platoon in a Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis, Washington,” Hughes added. “So the lineage of war fighters continues.”
He is bemused by a somewhat recent irony in his life: His son Ed's wife Haning, an Air Force Academy instructor, is a Chinese woman “whose father and mother were doctors for the Red Army I was fighting against in Korea,” Hughes related. “Now they are my in-laws.”
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