March 7, 2002
WW II Comrades Reunited After 56 Years
Today we are amazed by stories of exhaustive searches that end with long-lost family and friends being reunited. But all it took to bring two World War II soldiers back together after more than 50 years apart was the push of one button.
"I just called information and asked for his phone number," said Gerald McDaniel. "I wasn't sure if they would locate him, but then the recording came on and told me the phone number. Then it said press one and you will be connected to that number, so that's what I did. Before you knew it I had Dad all lined up to see his long lost friend."
With the push of the button the ground work was put in place for Gerald to take his father, Roy McDaniel, to Pennsylvania where the elder McDaniel would meet with Gerald Hughes, a fellow soldier that he had not spoken with since being shipped home some 56 years ago.
Gerald and Roy made the 675 mile trip on February 21 traveling more than 15 hours from Memphis to Graysville, PA, where Hughes lives on the family farm.
One might expect a trip of that length to take its toll on the riders but Gerald said his father never slept a wink the entire trip.
"I stopped by to check on him the morning before we had planned to leave and Dad was so keyed up he wanted to leave right then," Gerald said. "I told him I needed to get some sleep and get rested up, but he got me worked up enough that I couldn't sleep either so we started out about four hours early."
But the excitement of the trip did not stop there. The two men stopped about 30 miles from Graysville and got a hotel Thursday afternoon. They were ahead of schedule and were not planning to see Gerald Hughes until the following day but after unpacking the truck Roy would have nothing with waiting around all night.
"Dad looked at me and said 'Let's go on out there to Gerald's. I want to go now,' so we jumped back in the truck and headed for the house," Gerald McDaniel stated.
The men arrived at the home at 3:00 p.m. and the long lost army buddies were finally reunited in person. It was slow going for a couple hours as the two men struggled a bit to find their barings.
That was not the case the following morning when both men returned for a second go around. They both pulled out scrapbooks and souvenirs from their service time and the war stories started flying fast and furious.
The two veterans were not the lone beneficiaries of the reunion. In addition to Roy's son, Gerald, several of Hughes children and grandchildren were able to visit with the two men and learn much about their history in the Philippine Islands during WWII.
They all heard the 87-year-old McDaniel recount the arrival of Hughes, a young private, to the Pacific Theater where the men were part of Company I of the 20th Infantry Regiment of the Sixth Division of the United States Army.
A story in Hughes' hometown paper, the Green County Observer-Reporter, regarding the reunion quoted Hughes' wife, Carolyn as saying "Roy is only seven years older than Gerald (Hughes). But he really looked out for him and acted as a father figure."
McDaniel said he jokingly told the younger soldier "I would make you into a soldier or kill you in the process."
Mrs. Hughes may have been closer to the point than she realized when she said Roy acted as a father figure to her husband during the war. The feeling seemed to have been mutual, enough so that Roy named his son after his war buddy.
While there obviously was a tight bond between the soldiers they were self described opposites.
"There's just as much difference between him (Hughes) and me as day and night," Roy McDaniel said. "We only had one thing in common - we were meaner than a pair of junkyard dogs."
The two related countless number of war stories throughout the day on Friday as the men kept at it until dark. Roy impressed upon the Hughes family what a hero their father or grandfather had been when he told the tale of the duo braving heavy machine gun fire to rescue wounded American soldiers.
"The whole company retreated except for five of us," McDaniel told the family members. "We refused to fall back."
The two men's time together ended in August of 1945. They were loading into trucks in a small town near Manilla in the Philippines to go into the mountains to continue the fight against the Japanese. That is when Roy received the letter that based on his distinguished service record that he had earned the right to go home. He was pulled off the truck and that was the last time he saw Gerald Hughes.
But his name sake finally got the motivation to make sure it was not the last time the two men saw each other.
"I'm 53 years old," said Gerald McDaniel. "All my life my dad has been talking about Gerald Hughes. Then the other day I was looking through his photo book and I finally saw the picture of the two men together. I guess that is what set this in motion after all these years. I just wanted to make it happen for Dad."