103-Year-Old World War II Veteran John McHugh Honored by the Martin County Board of Commissioners in Florida

On February 27, 2024, 103-year-old John L. McHugh was invited to share his experiences as a contracted farmworker from Jamaica in New York during World War II. He has written about these experiences in a memoir entitled “The Forgotten Reapers of World War II: Gallant Jamaicans Help Defeat the Axis Powers.”

Invitation to World War II centenarian

Sisters Emily and Helena McHugh went with their father, 103-year-old John L. McHugh to the Commissioners Meeting of the Martin County Board of Commissioners on November 21, 2023. McHugh at the invitation of Martin County Commission Chairman and District 5 representative, Edward V. Ciampi, who asked McHugh to share stories from his recently published book, “The Forgotten Reapers of World War II: Gallant Jamaicans Help Defeat The Axis Powers.” McHugh, one of the oldest residents of Florida, had been part of a group of Jamaican farm workers brought to Elba, New York, to harvest onions. Emily McHugh of the Small Business Development Center at Indian River State College thanked Ciampi and the County Commissioners in a Facebook post on February 20, 2024, for their support in helping her father share his story. The second edition of McHugh’s book was celebrated in a virtual book launch event on February 27, 2024. Emily McHugh described the Commissioners’ invitation as a “red letter day” for her father and the family.

The story of the “forgotten reapers”

John McHugh’s book highlights the role that he and other Jamaican war workers had in saving crops in the United States during World War II and sustaining industry and commerce in US cities. McHugh discussed how he and his coworkers crossed U-boat-infested waters to reach New York City, where they had hopes of participating in the American Dream. The memoir tells the story from the point of view of the workers and recognizes the importance of the workers in fighting the war.

McHugh shares his story

When John McHugh is asked to give a reason for his long life, he says it is the grace of God. His daughter adds that his experience as a star football player in Jamaica and his life-long commitment to exercise are also notable. During his conversation with McHugh, Commissioner Ciampi said he “fancied himself a history buff” who was very interested in World War II, but he had never heard about the Jamaicans who went off to fight the war by farming and bringing in the crops. In the war, the British government and the US governments coordinated efforts to bring men from other countries to harvest crops for their populations. When Emily McHugh told him that her father had written a book about these men, he knew he had to invite him to speak to the Commission. McHugh also provided information about how many Jamaicans went to England to work in the Royal Air Force (RAF) as mechanics and in other roles, setting the stage for today, when Jamaicans are some of the best pilots in the world. Ciampi told McHugh that it was a “remarkable thing” he had done by writing his history for his family. He also congratulated McHugh on reaching the age of 103

Photo – Emily McHugh