General Don Hughes with Ed Nixon, President Nixon’s brother, in 2011 at the Commemoration of President Nixon’s 98th birthday.

General James “Don” Hughes, who served as a military aide to Richard Nixon during both his presidency and vice presidency, passed away on January 12, 2024, in Potomac Falls, Virginia, at the age of 101.

In 1957, Hughes was selected as Military Aide to Vice President Richard Nixon. He was with the Vice President during the Caracas crisis in 1958 and on scene at the American Exhibition in Moscow when he faced off with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in what became famously known as the “Kitchen Debate.”

From 1969 to 1972, General Hughes served as Military Assistant to President Nixon, overseeing 2,000 people directly, and in charge of Air Force One, special missions, helicopters, ceremonies, protocol, the White House Communications Agency and Camp David.  

James (Don) Hughes was born on July 7, 1922 in Balmville, New York. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point on June 4, 1946 and was commissioned in the Army Air Corps. He married his high school sweetheart, Bette Masterson.

In the Air Force, Don flew gliders, P-51 Mustangs, F-4 Phantoms and numerous other fighter aircraft. While in Korea he flew 101 combat missions and received the Purple Heart. During his nearly forty-year career, Don commanded the 9th, 12th and Pacific Air Forces consecutively. He was the recipient of the prestigious Order of The Sword Award from the non-commissioned officer corps, and in 2009 received The Distinguished Graduate Award from West Point.

In his retirement, Don continued his service to our nation. Soon after returning to Newburgh, he became involved in a twelve-year effort to recognize all service members that had received the Purple Heart. Working alongside Bill Larkin, Joe Farina and Everett Smith, The Genesis Group was formed and on November 11th , 2006, the idea became a reality when The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor was dedicated in New Windsor, New York. 

In 2022, the Richard Nixon Foundation dedicated the General James “Don” Hughes flagpole in commemoration of the General’s centennial birthday. The flagpole was selected to honor General Hughes as a lasting tribute of his work to ensure the American flag flies over the White House 24/7.

General Hughes was a loyal friend to the Nixon family throughout his long life and active with the Richard Nixon Foundation. In 2011, Hughes delivered the keynote address at the commemoration of Richard Nixon’s 98th birthday.

Family and friends were blessed to have Don in their lives for such a long time. He truly lived every one of his 101 years to the fullest. He will forever be remembered as a man of character, strong faith, caring and service to others and our nation.

Don is predeceased by his wife Bette and survived by his four children: Donna Fallander, Michael and Cheryl Hughes, Colonel (Ret) Richard and Karen Marchant, Colonel (Ret) Robert and Gina Hughes; eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to The Fisher House