CENTENNIAL, Colo. (8/21/12) -- A retired Airman will finally receive the recognition he is due in a ceremony Aug. 22 at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.
Adjutant General of Colorado, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, will present a Prisoner of War Medal to retired Air Force Master Sgt. James O’Neal Hughes at 8 a.m.
On Nov. 4, 1979, then-Staff Sgt. Hughes was taken hostage along with 65 other Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, by a group of Iranian students. As part of the Islamic Revolution, protestors marched in Tehran demanding the ousting of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and an end to American imperialism and martial law in Iran.
At the time of the incident, Hughes was working for the Defense Intelligence Agency as an intelligence assistant in the embassy.
"To see a protest outside the walls was normal, but that day they pushed through the gate," Hughes said. "I was searched, blindfolded and marched out of the room."
After 16 days of eating bread, goat cheese and rice, he and 12 other hostages were released.
Hughes was told by his captors that his group was being released because the students sympathized with the oppression of women and African-Americans in the U.S.
"I felt guilty," he said. "Why was I so special?"
The POW Medal was authorized by the Department of Defense in 1985. All but the first 13 hostages were authorized to wear the medal.
In 2003, the DOD recognized the original 13 in the same manner.
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized him as a POW, Hughes said he never felt he could accept the recognition because it was never in his records. Then in December 2011, he received his medal in the mail.
"Now that its official, the public presentation of the award is part of his lifelong healing process," said Janelle Darnell, Hughes' close friend.
Hughes is also a Vietnam veteran and served in multiple embassies throughout his Air Force career. He now works as a staff assistant at Fort Logan.
FOR ASSIGNMENT EDITORS: The formal medal presentation ceremony will take place at Fort Logan National Cemetery's main flagpole near Veterans Lake. The cemetery is located at 4400 W. Kenyon Ave. in Denver. Media representatives wishing to attend should RSVP with Air National Guard Capt. Darin Overstreet, firstname.lastname@example.org, 720-250-1053.
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