CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Frank R. Hodes was born in August 1919, in Newark, New Jersey. He was raised in nearby Springfield as the youngest of eight children (three brothers and four sisters) and worked as a purchasing agent before World War II.
The attack on Pearl Harbor shocked Hodes. “It made us realize,” he said, “that things were rather serious, and that eventually I would have to come into the military.” To help the war effort, Hodes worked at the Brewster Aeronautical factory in Brooklyn, while going to night school. After three years, however, the facility closed, and with that his draft exemption, so he decided to enlist. “All my friends were in the military,” Hodes explained, “and I felt that, ‘If I have to go in, I have to go in.’”
Enlisting in March 1944, Hodes travelled to Fort Dix to receive his uniform, and then to Camp Roberts, California, for basic training. At age 25, among mostly 18 and 19-year-olds, he was one of the oldest trainees. Hodes did meet one older soldier who had been conscripted in his 30s; this “old man” received library work at Fort Meade rather than overseas assignment, which Hodes felt “very good about” considering his age.
Hodes’s two senior brothers, both National Guard veterans, shared advice about what to expect, but the transition to military life still posed challenges. Hodes had travelled little from home during in his youth, and the sudden move to the West coast proved stressful. His loneliness lessened, however, after his wife Mildred, who he had married in 1942, followed him to California. She rented a one-room apartment and shared it with another Newark servicemember’s wife. Mildred got a job as a secretary, and he visited her on weekends. One of the couples typically rented a motel room to give the other privacy, though Hodes recalled one time where both had to sleep in the same room!
Hodes was assigned to Easy (”E”) Company of the 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division, as a rifleman, replacing a casualty of fighting in Europe. At Camp Roberts, he befriended several other men from Newark. Overseas, they served in the same unit, but were separated among the companies. One notable friend, Moe Goldberg, served on the very ridge where Hodes was wounded. Goldberg himself later lost an arm during the Battle of Aachen.
Travelling to Fort Meade, Maryland, Hodes conducted gas training and received his rifle. Afterwards, via Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, he embarked on the RMS Queen Mary II, a cruise liner converted to a troop transport. Its high speed provided defense against U-boats, so it did not travel in a convoy. Being torpedoed would have been disastrous, however; the ship, built to accommodate 1,500 passengers, carried 15,000 troops! Fortunately, this Atlantic crossing proceeded uneventfully, the only notable occurrences being dolphin sightings.
After arriving in Clyde, Scotland, Hodes took a train to Southampton, England, where he boarded a landing barge. Crossing the English Channel, he disembarked at Omaha Beach, 90 days after D-Day. Blockships held back the waves for smooth debarkation, and troops exited the beach via steps dug into the cliffs.
Coming off the beach, Hodes passed a cemetery described as “beyond vision. All you saw were markers for graves.” Soon after, he saw the bloated body of a German soldier in a ditch, as well as deceased cattle. Though not broadly crushing to morale, these sights constituted a “very sad experience” and did frighten some men. Several “went bananas” with fear and were returned to England.
Hodes joined his squad and headed east through northern France. In one town, he entered a barber shop. On the wall were pictures of Doughboys visiting the village decades earlier; Hodes noted that the appearance of the town had not changed “one iota.” He also visited a nearby bakery, but was initially denied service, as he lacked a ration card.
Soon after arriving at the front, Hodes received his baptism by fire. His unit dug foxholes on a hill, overlooking a German-occupied walled village. Previously, two companies had failed to capture the town, suffering heavy casualties.
The Germans ineffectually bombed the American positions overnight. The next morning, around 11 a.m., Hodes’s company assaulted the village. Approaching the wall, the unit received fire from the front and both sides. Unable to locate the enemy, he went prone and fired blindly at the wall.
Suddenly, Hodes felt several “bangs” in his leg – he had been shot. He lay on the ground, unable to speak for fear of passing out. A medic bandaged his leg and administered morphine. Hodes soon fell asleep, and fellow soldiers later carried him to safety on a raincoat. Only 20 of the company’s 120 men returned from the attack, and Hodes regretted how his company had been employed. “I always resented the fact that we were just fodder,” he said. “We were expendable.” A month later, the town fell to another attack, this time with air, armor, and artillery support.
Hodes passed through a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) outfit and a field hospital in Nancy, France, before arriving at a hospital in South Pool, England, for long-term recovery. He had been hit four times, at the knee and below. Two bullets passed through his leg, while surgeons removed another two. (Hodes retained the latter as mementos.) The injuries were not life-threatening, though they did produce osteomyelitis, a bone disease. He received bone-scraping treatment for this ailment. Hodes also remained uncomfortably confined in traction to keep his injured leg from settling unnaturally. After three weeks, a visiting colonel liberated him, deeming the treatment unnecessary.
While in South Pool, Hodes received a visit from a childhood friend, Joe Todres, whom he lauded as the “greatest guy in the world.” Serving as a chef at another army hospital in England, Todres appreciated his non-combat position. (Joe was such a talented cook, Hodes noted, that it “would have been a big mistake” to send him to fight.) He brought along an entire duffel bag of food (generously including a bag of chocolates sent by his wife, which he had not opened!), but Hodes could not consume much, his appetite having tanked since his injury. He lost 25 pounds in the hospital.
Hodes missed the Battle of the Bulge, thankful to be in his clean bed rather than one of “those poor guys out there, in the mud and the slop.” After six months in England, he endured a “terrible” 16-day journey via converted freighter back to the US, and then transferred to a hospital in Butler, Pennsylvania. From there, Hodes was eventually released on furlough and returned home, still wearing a leg brace.
His leave concluded, Hodes convinced the army to post him at Fort Dix instead of returning overseas. Though in service again, his recovery had not yet completed; he continued to undergo occasional surgeries in the coming months. In total, through 17 operations, Hodes spent nearly two and a half years recovering.
Hodes’s leg healed in a slightly bent position with an immobile joint. Though often able to walk without assistance, he still experienced pain and discomfort, and sometimes needed a cane. Due to his lengthy period of inactivity during recovery, Hodes also developed kidney stones and arthritis in his ankle. These afflictions made working very difficult for him. After 15 years, he finally received 100% disability status from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In addition to his combat injuries, Hodes suffered many setbacks through his personal life. While serving overseas, his wife suffered a miscarriage. Then, while he recovered in the US, his second child passed away at nine-months-old due to complications from a birth defect.
Hodes was discharged from the army in 1947, with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his sacrifice. Aside from his friend Joe Todres, he did not keep in contact with fellow servicemembers. After meeting a fellow 80th Division veteran after the war, Hodes did attend one reunion, but unfortunately, knowing none of the attendees, he found the experience boring. Though not participating in activities, he supported several veterans’ groups by paying dues: Disabled American Veterans, the Purple Heart Foundation, and Jewish War Veterans.
Hodes spoke at length about his experiences during the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking. Along with Mildred, he was a passenger on the namesake Italian cruise liner’s eleven-day journey through the Mediterranean. While off Egypt one day, Hodes went ashore for sightseeing. Meanwhile, other passengers, including his wife, sister, friends, and many other American nationals, remained aboard. Suddenly, armed Palestinian terrorists stormed the ship, taking its passengers and crew hostage. A frightened Hodes heard of the hijacking after an hour of waiting for the overdue vessel to arrive in port.
Fearing for Mildred’s safety, Hodes anxiously waited for what seemed like years. After four days, with great relief, she and the other hostages were finally released. Unfortunately, the terrorists had executed one hostage, Leon Klinghoffer, a good friend of the Hodes’. A New York resident, Klinghoffer had a beach condo in Long Branch and spent summers with Hodes. Additionally, based on a random draw of the hostages’ passports, Mildred had been slated to be the next executed hostage, and may not have survived had the crisis not been defused.
In addition to the stress of his wife’s well-being, Hodes contended with “unbearable” press hounding. When the ship returned to port, hundreds of photographers and journalists blocked his path to the pier. He did, however, agree to several interviews with cable news. For an interview with NBC, Hodes was brought to a studio (which he noted, looked like a “dump” on the outside but was beautiful indoors) in Cairo, but satellite communications issues cancelled it. On the other hand, Mildred declined to speak about her experiences, instead wishing to forget them.
In exchange for freeing the hostages, the Egyptian government, claiming no jurisdiction over the Palestinian nationals, provided them a plane with orders to leave the country. Subsequently, American fighter aircraft forced the escapees to land in Italy, where they were detained.
Before returning to the US, Hodes and the other former American hostages were brought to Italy to identify the hijackers, who were imprisoned and later released on parole. “Looking back now,” he said of the whole incident, “it was an interesting thing, if it weren’t for how sad it was, the tragedy of it.”
Despite facing many difficulties in both military and civilian life, Hodes enjoyed a successful post-war career. With a degree from Newark College, he ran his own insurance business for over sixty years. Hodes also helped found the Men’s Club of Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield, NJ, remaining active at the synagogue for decades.
Though proud and honored to defend the nation in World War II, Hodes closed with a different tone regarding contemporary conflicts:
“I think that we’re led like cattle by our government, by our politicians. I feel terrible about what’s going on in Iraq now. The waste of lives and all the horror and the suffering going on. The subterfuge that was involved, setting up this private war… I hate to see these kids over there… it could be my grandson. It’s a tragedy.”
Frank R. Hodes passed away at age 91 on February 21, 2011. Predeceased by Mildred in 2006, he was survived by a brother and two sisters, a son, Steven, a daughter, Carol, and two grandchildren.