Hughes, 70, was “thrilled to death” to receive the diploma at a Manassas School Board meeting March 18. At the meeting, he received a standing ovation from the audience.
During the middle of his sophomore year in high school, Hughes enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1951. At age 17, he left his high school in Wilmington, N.C. for basic training.
The Korean War veteran served in many locations as an Air Force air policeman from 1951 to 1955.
“I was in England most of my time in service. England, Germany, France, Holland — I was all over the place,” Hughes said.
At their home Wednesday, Hughes and his wife, Lois Hughes, watched a video of the March 18 school board meeting. Lois, a retiree from the United States Department of Defense, also graduated from Osbourn High School in 1948.
“I had cold chills all over me and I was real proud too,” Hughes said of the recognition he received at the meeting.
Lois shares in her husband’s excitement.
“When he’s happy, I’m happy,” Lois exclaimed.
The Korean War ended in 1953 but Hughes was still patrolling and securing military bases. In 1955, Hughes was in a car accident and suffered a broken leg. He still reflects on the injury.
“I broke my thigh right here,” Hughes said, while pointing to his upper right thigh.
While in a military hospital, he met Lois — his wife of 47 years.
“After she left I wanted to find out who that good looking girl was,” Hughes said of Lois Hughes.
“I didn’t even see him in there. I didn’t even notice him. I’m sorry,” she told Hughes in response to his comment.
Irving, the youngest in his family, followed the footsteps of his four brothers and father in deciding to enlist in the military 52 years ago. In the Hughes family, two brothers served in the Navy, one in the Army and one other in the Air Force.
Hughes is the first war veteran to be recognized by the Manassas School Board. He retired in 1991 after serving 26 years in the United States Postal Service.
The first honorary high school diplomas were created by the Virginia Board of Education and General Assembly in 2001. The diplomas were created to recognize World War II veterans unable to complete a high school education due to circumstances related to a war. In 2002, Korean War and Vietnam veterans were issued honorary diplomas. The Virginia Board of Education awarded 442 honorary diplomas in 2002.
To obtain his honorary diploma, Hughes submitted a statement including the location of the last high school attended and why he was unable to graduate.
“It’s an honorary diploma to recognize the contributions, the sacrifices, the patriotism and the life time achievements of men and women,” said Charles Pyle, Virginia Department of Education spokesman.