Monday, May 25, 2009
Ed Hodges, United States Navy
Ed Hodges (upper left) on the beach at Normandy.
“Scared? We Didn’t Have Time To Be Scared.”
THE ENGLISH CHANNEL: June 6, 1944: Ed Hodges didn’t have time to be scared. As a matter of fact, he hardly had time to think of the magnitude of what was about to happen to him. For more than a year he and his battalion had trained in the United States and North Africa, received their baptism under fire in Sicily andtrained some more. They knew their mission. They had diligently trained for it since their arrival in England. Everyone knew what was coming. It was a matter of when and where. From that point on, it was all instinct.
It was cold and cloudy off the southeastern coast of England at dawn on the morning of June 5, 1944. The harbors around Weymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton were filled with American and British vessels. With more than 4000 ships and boats carrying 180,000 men and covered by 13,000 aircraft, the largestarmada ever assembled began the hundred-mile trip across the English Channel toward the coast of France. Operation Overlord had begun. Since Germany first occupied France in 1940, Hitler’s forces knew that eventually the western Allies would launch a powerful strike across the channel. German strategists believed that the invasion would come at Calais, some twenty one crow fly miles away from the English Coast. After all, invading armies had taken the route many times before across the channel all the while keeping the French coast line in their sights. Allied planners concentrated a feint on Calais, including the creation of the illusion of non existent infantry, armor and artillery units in northern England.
Just ninety minutes after midnight on the morning of June 6th, 1944,paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions began leaping into drop zones behind the fortified German coastal defenses. Heavy bombing raids were conducted against German positions in Calais and Normandy in an attempt to disguise the true focus of the invasion. The waters of the channel were slight and choppy. Seasickness was spreading throughout the fleet. The air was cool, the night pitch dark. Then in a flash, the big guns of American battleships opened up. One sailor described it as “ Next, the sky lit up with millions of tracer fire, the sounds and sights were awesome. It looked like the world’s greatest fireworks.”
Before the infantrymen leading the invasion could land on the coast of Normandy, someone had to clear the beaches of land and sea mines, barbed wire and cris-crossed timbers designed to impede an amphibious landing. The task of clearing the beaches fell upon the 2nd, 6th, and 7th Naval Beach Battalions, who were assigned to Army engineers. Ed Hodges was an Electrician’s Mate Second Class with the 2nd Battalion. His friends call him “Bulldog.” If you know him, you would know why. Born Reese Edwin Hodges, Jr. in Washington County in 1921, was the oldest son of Reese Hodges, Sr. and his wife, CarrieHodges.
The 2nd Naval Beach Battalion was organized in March 1943 at Camp Bradford, Virginia. After a month of preliminary training, the battalion was shipped off to Camp Allen to prepare for the cross Atlantic voyage to Algeria, where it arrived on April 13, 1943. The sailors were subjected to intense training exercises before shipping out to Tunisia for more training. On July 10, 1943, in a preview of the inevitable amphibious landing in France, the 2nd Battalion participated in the invasion of Sicily, which led to surrender of the Axis country of Italy. Ed Hodges and his fellow sailors returned to Algeria for even more training.
In the fall of 1943, the beach battalion was transported to England, where they arrived on the day after Thanksgiving. Their voyage was not a pleasure cruise, as they were constantly harassed by German fighter planes. The beach battalions were primarily organized to act as liaisons between the naval forces and the invading army soldiers. During the invasion of France, the beach battalions would be the first to arrive. Their initial primary goals were to establish and maintain communications between the shore and the navy, guide the passage of men and ships in the area and demolish obstacles along the beach. Once the attack began, the men were to set up aid stations and field hospitals, as well as facilitating the evacuation of casualties.
In an interview with Sue Colter of TV-35 on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Ed Hodges remembered going in about four o’clock that morning, about three hours before the first wave was scheduled to attack on Utah Beach. Hodges recalled that he and his men had to swim some to try and dismantle the firmly placed wooden frames close by the shoreline. “We had metal detectors to find the mines, and we had to dig them out,” said Hodges. There was some hostile fire, “but luckily not much,” Hodges recalled.
The 4th Division was coming in full force right behind Ed and his fellow amphibians, known as “frog men.” The German army was stronger than expected at the designated site. The number of mines and obstacles were greater than had been anticipated by Allied planners. In a twist of fate, as if guided by a divine hand, the first wave landed some 1200 yards south of the prime landing zone. The actual landing site was somewhat less fortified, and few mines were found.
“After the first wave got in, we had time to rest and the load lightened up,” remarked Hodges. When asked if he was scared, Hodges replied, “Scared? We didn’t have time to be scared. We had a duty to do and had to get it done.” Once the beachhead was established, Hodges and his fellow sailors were assigned to act as keepers of the beach, directing traffic in and out of the area.
A raging storm pounded the coast line of Normandy ten days after D-Day. A Landing Craft Tank was approaching the shore when it suddenly struck a mine and split in two. With all of the bravery and tenacity of a bulldog, Electrician’s Mate Hodges sprang into action. He could see the sheer panic overwhelming the dazed infantrymen. Ed, only 22 years old, abandoned his landing craft and began to guide the wounded men to safety. He helped five wounded men from the stern section and sixteen men from the bow to safety. 12th Fleet Commander Harold Stark awarded Ed a commendation for “ devotion to duty, seamanship and outstanding personal courage and skill in assisting the removal of the men under extremely hazardous conditions.
Following his discharge from the Navy, Ed returned home to Dublin. In 1948, he married his sweetheart Ann Prescott. Ed and Ann built a home in the post war suburbs at the eastern end of his grandfather’s farm, which once stretched from Lancaster Street to Bud’s Branch along the northern side of Veteran’s Boulevard. Ed and Ann worked several decades for the Veteran’s Hospital before their retirement.
My parents were good friends of Ed and Ann. Their children grew up and played with us. My first dance with a girl was around the Maypole in 1963 at Moore Street School with his daughter Rae Ann, who became a close friend of my sister Janet. His son Chris, my brother Henry and I played together often. Never did I ever dream that the little big man they call “Bulldog” was such a hero. June 6, 1944 was one of the pivotal days in the history of mankind. Ed Hodges and the hundreds of thousands of men just like him had a mission to do and they did it. Simply said,
they saved the World.