GLEN HODGES AND THE BATTLE OF MIDWAY
Copyright 1998 by Emerson Thomas McMullen
(This is about nine single-spaced pages)

Abstract

As Glen Hodges grew up in rural Georgia, Japanese expansion in Asia eventually led to conflict between the United States and Japan. Glen went to war and ended up in the Pacific as a torpedo plane pilot. He was killed in action at the Battle of Midway, as were most of the U.S. torpedo plane crews. Still, their willingness to press home desperate and uncoordinated attacks aided in the ultimate victory. The Navy named the U.S.S. Hodges after Glen in 1944. The ship and its crew, with one of Glen's brothers on board, saw combat in the Pacific Theater.

Background

Glen's great, great-grandfather, Joshua Hodges, was a citizen-soldier who settled in Bulloch County after the Revolutionary War. Methodist circuit riders held meetings in Joshua's home until he helped found Union Methodist Church. By at least 1792, they had built a log meeting house on old River Road. A plank structure replaced it in 1834 and the present church building replaced that one in 1884. Joshua's descendant Wade Colquitt Hodges married Ophelia Nevils (Picture #2). In 1941 Mr. Hodges was named one of six Georgia Master Farmers of the Year. Mrs. Hodges played the pump-organ at Union Methodist and was a behind-the-scenes force at the church.

In 1914 Wade and Ophelia Hodges built a home (Picture #3) on their farm in the Middleground Community, north Bulloch County. Glen was born here 22 January 1917, during World War I. A standard 1940's textbook, The Story of Georgia, by Sell, McIntosh, and Wheeler, Atlanta, 1942, used this picture of the Hodges' farm as an example of Georgian "rural living . . . that will be better fitted to our modern way of life." (p. 339)

Most people do not know that Japan fought on the Allied side in WWI. After WWI, Japan acquired German holdings in China and the North Pacific. This whetted her appetite for more. In 1924, seeing the Japanese desire for territory, General Billy Mitchell predicted that Japan would strike the U.S. at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Mitchell's bombers demonstrated that planes could sink battleships. Prior to this time, the battleship was the premier naval weapon, but the technology was advancing and soon the airplane would take over.

Glen, second row, far right, was a freshman on the 1931 Middleground High School basketball team. His older brother Julian, is in the front row, second from the left (Picture #4). At that time, Japan, following its expansionist policy, controlled most of Manchuria but wanted an even bigger empire.

Glen, #6, was on the 1933 Statesboro High School football team; (Picture #5) Julian is #11 . Glen also played basketball at Statesboro before graduating in 1934. After working for a year on the farm, he went to the University of Georgia. At the University of Georgia, Glen played on the 1937 basketball team as a walk-on. He was the shortest player at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Knoxville, but was known for his speed (Picture #6) That year Japan invaded China and took Peking and Nanking. It arrogantly attacked and sank an American gunboat, the U.S.S. Panay, on the Yangtze River. Japan apologized and made restitution, but the reason the incident occurred in the first place, was that the local commander thought the U.S. was weak and cowardly. Many in the Japanese military and leadership held this view. One sign of weakness was that the U.S. planned to give the Philippines its freedom. This line of reasoning shows how different the thinking was in the two cultures.

In 1938 Glen continued to play basketball at the University of Georgia. (Picture #7). In that year Japan continued to take pieces of China and even clashed with the Russians.

In 1939 Japan found China too big to conquer entirely. This incomplete war would lead to another war. That same year Glen received his Bachelor of Science in forestry from the University of Georgia. He worked for the Agriculture Adjustment Administration program in Bulloch County and was slated to become the County Agent in Camden County. Later on that year, Hitler invaded Poland.

In 1940, Japan started to move into Southeast and South Asia as the European colonial powers controlling those areas fell to Hitler in Europe. Japan needed the vital resources there to sustain her economy and war machine. President

Roosevelt objected to the Japanese move into Southeast Asia, but Japan continued its aggression, reasoning that if America would not defend Paris, why should it defend Hanoi? This reinforced the idea that the U.S. was weak. However, when the 1911 trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan expired in early 1940, President Roosevelt refused to renew it. Japan could not understand the U.S.'s moral objections to its aggression. The Western democracies were against war because of the carnage that occurred in WWI on the Western front. But Japan's experiences in WWI were positive, not negative. Japan instead suggested that the U.S. divide the East Asia pie with it.

War Clouds

In 1940, many people were aware the U.S. would be involved in the fighting going on around the world. Besides Japanese aggression, Hitler had overrun Europe and Britain was fighting for its life. The U.S. had its first peacetime draft. In May 1940 Glen enlisted as Seaman 2nd Class at Macon, GA. He held this rank for three months and then was appointed an Aviation Cadet and went off to Florida for flight training. (Picture #8 - The plane may be a Grumman F2F or F3F.) Glen graduated from the Naval Air Station at Pensacola with the rank of Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

The last picture (#9) of the Hodges family was in 1940. Glen is standing on the far left. Clockwise from him is "W. C.," Sara Lou, Robert, Julian, Martha Evelyn, Mrs. Hodges, "Polly," Mr. Hodges, and Betty Grace. In late April 1941, eleven months after he joined the Navy, Glen reported for flying duty on board the Enterprise. He was now a citizen-soldier like his ancestor Joshua; only his weaponry was not a smooth-bore musket, but an airplane armed with machine guns, bombs, and torpedoes. That is unprecedented technological change in just 150 years/four generations.

When Japan completed its occupation of Indochina, the U.S. and Britain froze Japan's assets in their countries, hoping this would stop Japanese aggression. The U.S. did not think Japan would choose war, but the thinking in the cultures was different. This was an affront to Japan and she chose war. The Japanese also chose how they wanted to fight the war.

In 1894, when Japan had gone to war with China, she launched a preemptive strike, captured what she wanted, held on to it defensively, and then negotiated a peace in her favor. In 1904, she had done the same with Russia. Admiral Isoroku

Yamamoto and Japanese war planners decided to follow a similar strategy with America. They would isolate China, finish the war there, and keep an eye on the Russians. They would seize the resource-rich areas of Asia, cut the American line of communications to the Philippines, form a perimeter defense against the U.S., and hold on for a negotiated peace in their favor. Again, many Japanese thought the Americans were weak fighters and, in any event, would be distracted by the war in Europe. They thought their only real obstacle was the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Glen had a portrait (#10) made at Waikiki while stationed in Hawaii. Just a few weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he wrote home that he could not understand how he was gaining weight on such bad food. He was homesick for the farm and especially missed the cured pork from their smokehouse.

War

Glen and his ship were returning from delivering planes to Wake Island when Japanese carrier aircraft struck Pearl Harbor. Not long after that attack, planes from the Enterprise flew to Pearl Harbor. Jumpy U.S. gunners fired on them and shot down several planes. Glen's torpedo squadron could have suffered a similar fate if it had not returned to the Enterprise and made a difficult night landing with torpedoes mounted beneath their planes.

The string of Japanese victories following Pearl Harbor stunned the American people. They clamored for the military to do something. In early 1942, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the new Navy Commander in the Pacific, sent his carriers on several raids. These hit-and-run attacks did nothing to stop Japan, but Glen and the other fliers gained combat experience. Picture #11 shows a relaxed moment at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, either just before or just after the Doolittle Raid. Naval fliers and submariners stayed here between patrols. Glen (center) is with a squadron-mate, Edward Heck, Jr. (on his left), and three pilots from the U.S.S. Enterprise's fighter squadron (left to right): Howard L. Grimmell, William M. Holt, and Joseph R. Daley.

The big psychological blow for the U.S. against Japan was the Doolittle Raid in April 1942. The Enterprise's mission was to protect the Hornet in case of attack. From the deck of the Enterprise, Glen and others watched Doolittle's bombers take off from the Hornet and head out to strike the Japanese home islands. They held their breaths as each bomber lumbered down the deck, and then waved and cheered when it lifted off.

Doolittle's attack on their home islands settled a debate between Japanese factions over whether to take Midway. They had to; they could not allow such a raid to happen again. This was a loss of face for the military because its duty was to protect the emperor. Besides planning to take Midway, the Japanese also wanted to extend their reach north to the Aleutians and south toward Australia.

There had been fierce fighting in Northern New Guinea. Japan planned to invade Port Moresby, in Southern New Guinea, and the allied base on Tulagai, in the Solomon Islands. From these bases the Japanese could control the whole Coral Sea area, and cut off Australia from its allies. Japan's execution of this plan led to the Battle of the Coral Sea, the first naval battle in which opposing ships struck at each other without being within gunshot (Picture #12). The U.S. lost the carrier Lexington, but the Japanese aviators thought they had sunk the Yorktown, too.

The fighting in the Coral Sea set the scene for the Battle of Midway. The Americans had broken the Japanese code and knew their plan. The Japanese expected that they could take Midway first, and then wait for what they thought were the two remaining U.S. carriers to be lured into battle and then destroyed. Instead, the Americans planned an ambush of their own.

Overconfidence led Yamamoto to squander his carrier resources. Overall, he had available to him seven large carriers and three small ones. He sent a large carrier and a small carrier in an inconsequential diversionary attack on the Aleutians. Then he lackadaisically did not get either of the two large, battle-damaged carriers from the Coral Sea into the Midway battle. He ordered the other two small carriers to guard his battleships and the invasion fleet. The battleships were too far behind the main carrier group to help it. So the Japanese had only four large carriers leading the attack.

Midway

At Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz patched up the damaged Yorktown, and thereby got her into the fight at Midway. That made the lineup for Midway four Japanese large carriers versus three American large carriers. The Midway Atoll itself had torpedo planes, fighters, scout planes, and bombers flying from its airstrip. It was the equivalent of an unsinkable aircraft carrier. From an aerial resources standpoint, the fight was shaping up to be somewhat of an even one. Surprise was on the side of the Americans and superior planes were on the side of the Japanese. Picture #13 shows the pilots of Torpedo Squadron Six on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, 20 May 1942, two weeks before the Battle of Midway. Of the eighteen aviators pictured here, fourteen would fight in the battle, and nine would be killed in action. Glen is in the front row, fourth from the right. Behind him is the second-in-command, LT Arthur Ely. On Ely's right is the squadron leader, LCDR Eugene Lindsey.

Early on the morning of 4 June 1942, amidst great cheers from the deck crews, the first wave of planes from the Japanese carrier force took off for Midway. Then Admiral Chuichi Nagumo had airplanes loaded for a possible strike against enemy ships brought up on deck. He did this because he had two objectives: one was to knock out the Midway defenses and the other was to sink any hostile ships, especially carriers. This double responsibility would compromise Nagumo's ability to do either mission very well.

A PBY scout plane sighted and followed the Japanese carrier group, reporting its position and direction. A second PBY spotted the planes headed for Midway and shadowed them, radioing their position. The Midway radar picked them up too and all serviceable planes left the atoll. The bombers and torpedo planes headed toward the Japanese carriers for an uncoordinated attack. Wildcats and aging Brewster Buffaloes headed for the incoming planes. The Japanese shot up these American fighters, and then bombed and strafed Midway.

Starting at about seven a.m., the first Americans to attack the Japanese carrier fleet were six of the new and faster TBF torpedo planes. Also, there were four B-26's, each carrying a torpedo. The defending Zeros shot down half of the B-26's and all but one of the newer torpedo planes. Of the eighteen crew members on the TBF's, only two survived, and they were both wounded. The few torpedoes the Americans dropped missed.

After that, fourteen B-17's commenced a high-altitude bomb run and missed as the ships maneuvered out of harm's way. Then sixteen Marine dive bombers made a glide bombing attack because their pilots were not experienced enough to do any dive bombing. The defending Zeros shot down half of them and the rest missed their targets. A similar thing happened to the twelve older Vindicators that went after the Japanese next.

Seeing these land-based aircraft attacks on his carriers, Nagumo decided that the first strike had not been effective enough and ordered a second wave armed for another attack on Midway. This meant the deck crews had to switch general-purpose bombs for torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs. Nagumo had been criticized for not launching a second strike at Pearl Harbor; no doubt he wanted to be sure he had completed the job at Midway.

Suddenly, the planes of the first wave returned. Deck crews had to take the second strike force below in order to retrieve and refuel the planes from the first wave as well as those Zeros that had been defending the fleet. Operations on board the carriers started to get hectic. This situation was compounded when a search plane reported sighting an American carrier within striking distance. This was a threat that Nagumo could not ignore. He ordered his planes to be rearmed for an attack against the carrier instead of Midway. Now torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs had to be switched back in place of the regular bombs. The Japanese carriers became extremely vulnerable. Gasoline tanks, bombs, and torpedoes were stored all over the flight and hangar decks. With the rapid changes of orders, there had not been enough time to observe proper safety precautions. This was the moment the American Navy had been lying in wait for; it launched its planes. Picture #14 shows the torpedo planes on the U.S.S. Enterprise being readied for the Battle of Midway, 4 June, 1942. Presumably Glen is somewhere in this picture - prepared to take off for what would be the last time.

Glen and his comrades-in-arms headed to where they thought the enemy carriers were. However, Nagumo had turned his ships in a northerly direction in order to close the distance on the Americans. This critical change had not been relayed to the U.S. planes. When the American pilots did not find the enemy, they spread out in a search mode. As a result, those that did not turn back because of low fuel reserves eventually arrived at their targets in a piecemeal fashion instead of in a coordinated attack.

The first carrier aircraft to attack the Japanese were the torpedo planes from the Hornet. They were in an open formation, but when the Zeros from the combat air patrol dropped down on them, they started to tighten up. Nevertheless, they immediately lost some planes and eventually all were shot down and only one man out of thirty total survived.

Japanese destroyers had laid down smoke screens that Glen's squadron saw. LCDR Eugene Lindsey split the squadron in two in order to attack from both sides. He led the group that included William Humphrey of Millidgeville (Picture #15). LT Arthur Ely led the group Glen was in. This split made them more vulnerable to the Zeros because their combined defensive fire from the rear gunners was not as great. Two of the highly maneuverable Zeros would close behind a torpedo plane, one on each side. Whichever one the gunner fired at would break off its attack, and the other Zero would close in for the kill. Carrying the torpedo, the American planes could only make 100-120 m.p.h. and were sitting ducks. When they got close to the ships, the antiaircraft guns took over. One by one American torpedo planes were hit and went down in flames. A bullet did hit one of the torpedoes and it detonated. There is a one-in-three probability that Glen died this way: in a blinding, mid-air explosion. Ten out of twenty-eight men from Glen's squadron survived, five pilots and five gunners, including Humphrey.

The torpedo planes from the Yorktown arrived next on the scene. Again the defending Zeros were all over them. Often the Zero pilots braved their own antiaircraft fire to press home their attack. Only three persons survived out of twenty-four. Glen's squadron lost the least number of personnel because its torpedo planes had two rear machine guns, while most planes in the other two squadrons had only one.

The Japanese were now ready to attack the American ships. Their carriers swung into the wind, but the American dive bombers now arrived at the battle more or less undetected and more or less at the same time. The Japanese carriers had no radar and there was just enough cloud cover to hide the bombers from the lookouts. The combat air patrol was down low, finishing off the torpedo planes, and had not had enough time to climb to altitude. Suddenly the dive bombers came streaking down out of the sun. The two to four bombs that hit each carrier were enough to finish them off because of the armed and fully-fueled planes, and because of the munitions and gasoline containers scattered around. The dive bombers from the Enterprise hit the Kaga and the Akagi. TheYorktown dive bombers hit the Soryu (Picture #16). In five minutes these three carriers were blazing infernos. The exploding torpedoes and bombs made it impossible to bring the fires under control. The fighting continued, and the carriers Hiryu and Yorktown were sunk later, but the Japanese lost the battle at this point.

Commentary

The movie Midway and several books assert that the Americans were lucky to have caught the Japanese at this moment. I do not agree. One reason this situation occurred as it did is that Japan's high command did not fully realize that the battleship was no longer king of the sea. Another reason is because of the sum total of decisions made by many individuals. Here are some examples: Nimitz decided to trust completely the information the code breakers gave him, in spite of other advice from Washington, D.C. Yamamoto chose to divide his forces and thereby weakened his attack. The Japanese planners decided to put radar first on their battleships and not on their carriers, but then let the carriers lead the attack. These carriers were very vulnerable for a long period of time because Nagumo decided to rearm his planes for a second strike on Midway. And so on; the battle occurred as it did because of individual decisions.

Bravely flying into the teeth of the enemy was a factor for America's victory, too. CDR Minoru Genda, Nagumo's Air Staff Officer, recognized this. He said of Glen and the others: "Their fighting spirit, repeating attacks in spite of heavy losses sustained, should also be credited for the victory." He was right. Glen's commendation for the Navy Cross starts: "For extraordinary heroism and courageous devotion to duty. . . ." and ends: "His extreme disregard of personal safety contributed to the success of our forces and his loyal conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." Glen and those who did give their lives had a fighting spirit and that did help carry the U.S. to victory.

The turning point for Japanese military expansion was the Battle of Midway. The United States gained the strategic offense in the Pacific and never relinquished it. It is tragic that Glen Hodges and many of his comrades-in-arms died at Midway, but their heroism contributed to the ultimate triumph for which they were fighting. The U.S. Navy recognized their sacrifice by naming ships after many of them. One was the Destroyer Escort, U.S.S. Hodges, which, appropriately, saw combat in the Pacific.

The U.S.S. Hodges

Picture #17 is a drawing of the ship and an announcement for the christening ceremony of the U.S.S. Hodges. The engraved invitations asked that no cameras be brought. A large contingent from Bulloch County attended the christening ceremonies at the Charleston Navy Yard, Saturday, 27 May 1944 (Picture #18). Included were brothers Storekeeper Second Class Julian B. Hodges and Ensign Robert Hodges, USNR. Robert would serve on board the Hodges for the duration of the war. Glen's youngest sister, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Jane ("Polly"), is breaking a bottle of champagne on the bow of the U.S.S. Hodges in picture #19. The Yard's civilian workers gave her an engraved silver bowl. (John C. Meyer of Charleston, a crane operator who helped build the Hodges, now resides in Statesboro.) Miss Marie Leyh (center, Picture #20), a clerk-typist at the Yard's Personnel Relations Division and formerly of Atlanta, presented flowers to Polly. On the left is the Matron of Honor, Mrs. Sara Lou Hodges Brogdon of Lyons .

The U.S.S. Hodges, Destroyer Escort #231 (Picture #21) saw combat in the Battle for the Philippines. The ship's closest call came on the night of 9 January 1945, when a Japanese G4M2 "Betty" bomber dove at the ship's bridge. However, the pilot only hit the mast and radar antenna and then crashed beside the ship.

Acknowledgments

I thank the Hodges family, especially Betty Hodges Barr, for the bulk of the pictures shown here. Pictures #6 and #7 are from The University of Georgia Yearbook, The Pandora. Picture #11 if courtesy of Sara Lou Hodges Brogdon. Picture #14 is National Archive photo #80-G-41686. Picture #15 is courtesy of John Greaves. Pictures #12 and #16 are courtesy of Stan Stokes, as is the one marked "1942". Pictures #13 and #19 are from the U.S. Navy. Sharon Ann McMullen did the word processing.