DES PLAINES, Ill. — One of Illinois’ last survivors of the battle of Iwo Jima is finally sharing his story.
Woody Hughes survived the battle but was reluctant to talk about.
"How would I have reacted? How would it affect my psyche over all those years?” Hughes said.
For decades, most knew him as “Coach Hughes,” a longtime teacher and basketball coach at Maine West High School in Des Plaines. It wasn't until he retired and the years passed that Hughes said he felt he lost his identity.
"I didn't feel needed anymore,” he said.
That's until his son told him about a flag traveling around the country. It was a swath of fabric with the signatures of those remaining survivors of Iwo Jima.
"He said, ‘Dad, you're more needed now than you've ever been and you should share your experiences because there's not many of you around anymore,’”Huges said
This year surrounded by four generations of his family, Hughes added his name to that historic flag.
He’s now a former teacher viewing his story in a new light.
At 94, Hughes has embarked on a mission: to give one final lesson in honor of the comrades who never got the chance to come home.
"All teachers feel they need to educated as long as they're living,” he said.
Since then Hughes has spoke to numerous groups of young people to share his pictures and stories and most of all, to remind them that the freedom they enjoy was paid for with someone's life.