A push to honor WWII hero John McHugh

Relative collecting signatures to get street co-named for Whitestone man

On the morning of June 6, 1944, John McHugh sat with a dozen or so fellow soldiers in a landing craft on the English Channel. Some of them were throwing up their breakfast.

The Third Reich was waiting.

McHugh, now a 94-year-old Whitestone resident, was in the second wave of American troops to land at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France in the D-Day invasion. His boat got there around 7:30 a.m., according to McHugh’s son, John Jr.

Heavy Nazi firepower greeted the soldiers.

A German 88-mm shell blew up the landing craft behind McHugh’s boat. And though he had been carrying the tripod for a 30-caliber machine gun, the man carrying the weapon itself was killed.

Lacking the weapon, the young soldier crawled on the sand all day long.

After D-Day, McHugh and others in the 1st Infantry Division — “The Big Red One” — spent months beating back the Nazis, fighting them at the historic battles of H¸rtgen Forest, Aachen, Crucifix Hill and the Bulge.

“He really had seen quite a bit of combat,” said McHugh Jr., who lives with his wife in a house they share with his father.

When he was stationed in Europe, the young soldier sent all the money he earned back home to his mother, a widow.

In 1945, for seven months after the war ended, McHugh was in the Army of Occupation. Then, he was honorably discharged with the rank of corporal.

The Whitestone resident is highly decorated. He earned the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration given to soldiers for bravery in combat.

He also was given the Bronze Star and the European Theater of Operations ribbon, which features four bronze stars signifying the major battles he was in and a silver arrowhead for the invasion of Normandy. Additionally, he was given the Combat Infantryman Badge and two Presidential Unit Citations for fighting at H¸rtgen Forest and Crucifix Hill. Belgium gave him the Fort Eger badge for his fighting in the country.

And in 2014, he was inducted into the state Senate Veterans Hall of Fame. In the same year, he was one of the honorees at the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade, which is often called the nation’s largest one.

McHugh was born in Union City, NJ, to Irish immigrants. His father, also John, fought in World War I. He was shot six times in the Argonne forest and, while staying in a no man’s land for three days, was gassed and got pleurisy pneumonia. Ultimately, he went back to the United States after being discharged.

The 1st Infantry division veteran moved to Whitestone in 1955 and raised his kids — John Jr., Brian and Tim — there with his late wife. In 1987, he visited Normandy with his family, opting to spend some time alone there at the cemetery for Americans who died in the war, searching for comrades slain on D-Day.

He has three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His career included work as a Transit Authority conductor and a private investigator and, most recently, working in security, from which he retired last March.

Those who know him well can tell you that he is an impressive Irish tenor known for belting out a tear-jerking “Danny Boy.”

Kevin Shields, a member of Community Board 7 who is McHugh’s first cousin once removed, grew up in awe of his service to the country. He knew the veteran, who today has hearing and vision issues, as his “uncle.”

He’s gathered around 1,000 signatures for a campaign to get the city to co-name the block McHugh lives on — 156th Street between Cryders Lane and 14th Avenue — in his honor. His goal is to get 10,000. By the end of this week, he expects to be halfway there.

There’s one major obstacle, though: The City Council’s guidelines for street co-namings require that the honoree must be deceased.

But Shields says there must be an exemption.

“I don’t want to wait until after he’s dead,” he said, adding that McHugh must be around to see the co-naming when it happens.

Another CB 7 member, Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association President Kim Cody, is also supporting Shields’ effort.

Cody has known McHugh since his preteen years. The veteran coached him on a youth football team.

The civic leader said that when his father was out of town on work trips, “John filled in a lot of the void. ... It was a very important time of my life and he did quite a bit for me.”

“He definitely served his country well,” he said. “Above and beyond the call, he really did.”