Jim Hughes was born in 1927 in Waterloo, Iowa. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on April 17, 1945, and served as a ship fireman until his honorable discharge from the Navy on August 9, 1946, having served in the Pacific after the end of World War II from September 1945 to April 1946. After attending Iowa State College, he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program of the U.S. Air Force on August 16, 1949, and he was commissioned a 2d Lt and awarded his pilot wings on September 15, 1950. Lt Hughes then completed advanced flight training and pilot instructor training before serving as a flight instructor with the 3565th Training Squadron at James Connally AFB, Texas, from January to October 1951, and then with the 3625th Training Wing at Tyndall AFB, Florida, from October 1951 to March 1952. His next assignment was as an instructor pilot with the 3550th Training Group at Moody AFB, Georgia, from March 1952 to January 1954, followed by service as an F-94 Starfire pilot with the 46th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Dover AFB, Delaware, from January to June 1954. He served as a flight instructor with the 1100th Air Base Group at Bolling AFB, Washington, D.C., from June 1954 to February 1955, and then deployed to Japan as an F-94 pilot with the 319th Fighter Interceptor Squadron from March to October 1955. Capt Hughes next served as an F-86 Sabre pilot with the 41st Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Yokota AB, Japan, from October 1955 to May 1956, followed by service on the staff of the 41st Air Division at Irumigawa, Japan, from May 1956 to March 1958. After completing Basic Instructor School, he served as an instructor pilot and flight commander with the 3615th Flying Training Squadron at Craig AFB, Alabama, from August 1958 to June 1962, and during this time he completed his bachelor's degree at the University of Omaha through an Operation Bootstrap assignment from January to August 1960. Maj Hughes then received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to the University of New Hampshire to complete a second degree program from June 1962 to April 1965. His next assignment was as a Programs Officer with Headquarters Rome Air Development Center at Griffiss AFB, New York, from April 1965 to August 1966, followed by F-105 Thunderchief Combat Crew Training from August to December 1966. LtCol Hughes deployed to Southeast Asia in February 1967, where he served as an F-105 pilot with the 469th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from February 1967 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on May 5, 1967. After spending 2,131 days in captivity, Col Hughes was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Sheppard AFB, Texas, and then retired from the Air Force on September 1, 1973.
His 1st (of 4) Distinguished Flying Cross w/Valor Citation reads:
Lieutenant Colonel James L. Hughes distinguished himself by heroism while participating in aerial flight as an F-105 Pilot over North Vietnam on 30 March 1967. On that date, Colonel Hughes was assigned the task of acting as a diversion for a low level strike on a major target in North Vietnam. In this diversionary role, Colonel Hughes' flight had three deadly SA-2 missiles explode in and around them. The flight also was engulfed by flak while over the target. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Colonel Hughes reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.