After 23 years in the Nevada Army Guard and more than 50 years as a journalist, few Nevadans can tell more incredible stories than retired Master Sgt. Tony Hughes. In fact, the Nevada Press Association recognized his extraordinary ability to recount news stories by inducting him into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2006.
Hughes’ Army Guard career spanned from 1955-1983 (including a break in service). He said he enjoyed every second of his career, which included long stints at units both in Hawthorne and Carson City.
“I tell everyone the National Guard was the best thing that I ever got into. I just loved it,” he said.
Some of his military stories should probably remain off the record, but he tells them anyway, including one about a late-night adventure with a Nevada governor.
Hughes, 77, rose to the rank of master sergeant but never attended basic training or advanced individual training.
“When I enlisted, there was no requirement to go to basic training or do any prerequisite training,” Hughes said. “I just showed up at drill, they gave me a uniform, and I learned what I needed to know on the job.”
Hughes’ first drills were at the Hawthorne Convention Center. His unit had about 60 soldiers.
“We had a 40mm towed gun and quad .50 anti-aircraft machine guns,” Hughes said. “Not long after I joined, they gave us M42 tanks.”
The M42 was a 40mm self-propelled anti-aircraft gun often referred to as the “Duster.” It was in service from 1952–1959.
As a civilian, Hughes worked his entire life in the newspaper business and eventually became a co-owner of the Mineral County Independent-News with his brothers Frank and Ted. As a reporter and newspaper owner, he met many influential people.
“I knew Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan long before he became governor,” Hughes said.
Callaghan was Nevada’s governor from 1971-1979 and had earned a Silver Star as a mortar man during the Korean War. He lost part of his leg in combat. (Both the hospital at Nellis Air Force Base and a bridge near Hoover Dam between Nevada and Arizona are named after O’Callaghan.)
One weekend, O’Callaghan came out to watch the Guard train in Hawthorne. At the end of the day, O’Callaghan sought out Hughes.
“Mike asked me what I had planned for that night,” Hughes said. “I told him I had nothing going on. The old mortar man said ‘let’s go back out to the field and fire some rounds.’
“So we hopped on a helicopter and flew to the range around 8 p.m. that night. We stayed out there until 1 a.m. firing mortar rounds.”
Hughes loved the Guard, but growing family demands and a new mission for his unit caused him to take an early break in his service.
“My kids were growing up, and I wanted to spend more time with them,” Hughes said. “Then the Army gave us M48 tanks. I climbed into one, and I felt like I was in a coffin. So I decided to leave the Guard.”
As a civilian reporter, Hughes continued to see Guard leaders and was prodded into a return to military service.
“I was good friends with Floyd Edsall, Nevada’s Adjutant General from 1967-1979. Every time I saw him, he’d ask, ‘When are you going to come back in the Guard, Tony?’ That got me thinking,” Hughes said.
After conferring with his wife, Hughes rejoined the Nevada Guard in 1972. He took a position working with Col. William Engel in Carson City. Engel later served as Nevada’s Adjutant General from 1979-1984.
Hughes retired from the Army in 1983, finishing his career as the first sergeant for the 106th Public Affairs Detachment.
“The best thing about being in the Guard was the people I worked with,” Hughes said. “It was really a good experience.”
Hughes continued to run the Mineral County Independent-News. In 2006, the Nevada Press Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame along with his brothers Frank and Ted.
“The Hughes brothers embody the ideals of the Nevada Press Association with their work ethic, their dedication and their service,” said NPA president Matt Hufman in 2006 upon the brothers’ induction.
Now completely retired after selling the newspaper in 2011, Hughes is fit, healthy and happy in Mineral County. He stays busy volunteering his time at the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum. A native of Hawthorne, he’s never had any desire to live anywhere else.
“I’ve been really satisfied growing up and living in Hawthorne,” Hughes said. “It’s a nice place to live.”
But he does have one disappointment.
“I’m sad there is no Nevada Guard unit in Hawthorne anymore. I think they’re missing out by not having an active unit here,” he said.