Flag ceremonies across the suburbs, country honor last request of Iwo Jima veteran
Elwood "Woody" Hughes intended to raise a flag at a local school Tuesday, 76 years to the day he witnessed his fellow Marines make history with their iconic flag-raising during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
The 95-year-old veteran and longtime high school educator, who died three weeks ago, never got the chance to salute Old Glory one last time on that anniversary date.
But it was his dying wish that others would remember what happened that day on Mount Suribachi, and honor the nearly 7,000 men who never came home, by raising flags of their own -- at schools, churches, businesses, government buildings and homes.
On Tuesday morning, dozens throughout the suburbs -- and perhaps hundreds nationwide and beyond -- honored Hughes' last request.
"He would be honored that everybody's come out to do this," said his daughter, Emily Hughes, who attended a flag ceremony at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, where her dad taught and coached from 1959 to 1983.
Just as three active-duty Marines in their dress blues prepared to unfurl and raise a flag in front of Maine West's entrance, Hughes received a video on her phone from her brother in Lexington, Kentucky, where University of Kentucky ROTC students has just finished a ceremony honoring their father and other Iwo Jima veterans.
Woody Hughes, a longtime Wheeling resident, had gone to live with his son and family in Kentucky in recent months.
With the help of newspapers, social media, email chains among veterans' groups and word-of-mouth, Hughes' last request began to spread over the past week.
Greg Padovani, chairman of the Veterans Memorial Committee of Arlington Heights, sent an email about the planned flag tribute to his veterans network a little more than a week ago. By Tuesday afternoon, after Padovani got back from a flag ceremony attended by about 30 veterans at American Legion Post 208 in Arlington Heights, he already had received nearly 60 emails from veterans groups with photos and videos of their flag ceremonies.
He expected that number to only grow in the coming days, having received confirmation of about 100 flag ceremonies taking place in locations as far as Florida, California and even Germany.
"They're still streaming in. These people I have never heard of before are sending me these photos saying it was an honor to commemorate Woody," said Padovani, who got to know Hughes from his involvement in Memorial Day and veterans events in town. "The internet is the tool or the channel, but it's the people themselves. It just gives you goose bumps."
In recent years, Hughes enjoyed talking about his experiences in World War II during lectures at local schools, and in imparting the value of civics to youths. He was scheduled to speak to his old school, Maine West, before COVID-19 hit.
That's why his daughter Emily said it was important for her to be there Tuesday.
"He decided that he needed to make that his mission to get the word out," she said. "He's done that, till his dying day."