Otmer Franklin Hodges Jr.
In May 2011, the Big Chimney Interstate Bridge on Interstate 79 in Kanawha County, West Virginia, was named the “Hodges Brothers Bridge” to commemorate six brothers who served in the U.S. armed forces during the middle of the 20th century.
Army Private First Class Otmer Franklin Hodges, Jr., was born in Big Chimney on July 31, 1930, to Otmer F. and Gertie Hodges. Otmer, Sr., was a line walker with United Fuel Gas Company at the time of the younger Otmer’s birth and retired as a foreman after many years with the company. In addition to Otmer, Jr., the family included brothers Eugene, Carl F., Gerald R., Bobby, Larry K., and Gary, and sisters Violet, Pauline, Claretta, and Carolyn. Infant twins and another boy and girl died at or shortly after birth. Otmer’s family knew him as “Junior.”
Family life centered on the Big Chimney area where the brothers and sisters grew up; like others of his family, Otmer attended Elkview High School. He regularly went to the Mile Fork Church.
|Enlisting in the U.S. Army, Otmer received his training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Pfc. Hodges was then assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, 24th Infantry Division. The 19th Infantry Regiment has a long history dating back to the early days of the Civil War. Otmer had been in the Army for about two years when, on his twentieth birthday, July 31, 1950, he was killed in action while fighting in the Pusan Perimeter, Southwest, near the town of Chinju, South Korea. His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial.|
The North Korean People’s Army (KPA) had invaded the Republic of [South] Korea (ROK) by surprise on June 25, 1950, and a month later, the war was going very badly for South Korea and the United States of America. On July 30, the 2nd Battalion of the 19th Infantry was deployed behind the 1st Battalion on the Chinju-Masan roadway. When a large KPA force overran part of the 1st Battalion, it fell back; the 2nd Battalion held position west of Chinju. On July 31, the KPA renewed their attack at that location as the survivors of the 2nd Battalion moved into the town. Fierce fighting continued, until the 19th Regiment of the 2nd Battalion withdrew to new defense positions to the east. Pfc. Hodges was killed while leading a squad bringing ammunition forward, covering the withdrawal of his men. Because of the rapid retreat, his body was not recovered.
Gary Hodges, who was ten at the time of his brother Otmer’s death, remembered him as a “good brother,” one who was always good to his family. Gary recalled that Otmer had a girlfriend, and the two would probably have been married when Otmer returned from service, but Otmer had told her that if she found someone else in the meantime, she should “go ahead and get married.” Of course, she did not. He had sent his mother a jacket from Korea to be given to the girlfriend; sadly, he would be killed before the gift was given.
||During his short Army stint, Pfc. Hodges garnered numerous honors for leadership and valor—the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal. A certificate signed by President Truman says of Pfc. Hodges: “He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live and grow and increase in its blessings.”|
|On May 18, 1951, Col. A. R. Reeves, chief of the West Virginia Military District, South Charleston, presented the Bronze Star posthumously to parents Otmer, Sr., and Gertie Hodges. The citation reads in part as follows:||
Private First Class Otmer F. Hodges, Jr., . . .distinguished himself by heroic action near Chinju, Korea on 31 July 1950. During the withdrawal a squad of the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon was given the mission resupplying the front line troops with vitally needed ammunition. While enroute to the forward elements, the squad was attacked by infiltrating enemy troops. Leaving the vehicle, Private [Pfc.] Hodges immediately moved to the most forward position of the deployed troops to better observe the enemy. Seeing that the hostile force was preparing to flank and encircle his squad, he advised them to withdraw from their precarious position and remained to cover their movement with effective rifle fire. Through his courageous efforts the squad successfully withdrew with a minimum of casualties. In this heroic action Private Hodges was killed. His unhesitant devotion to duty and complete disregard of his own safety reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Infantry.
In September 1950, the Hodges family received the following letter from Frank Pace, Jr., Secretary of the Army:
At the request of the President, I write to inform you that the Purple Heart has been awarded posthumously to your son, Private First Class Otmer F. Hodges, Jr., Infantry, who sacrificed his life in Korea.
Little that we can do or say will console you for the death of your loved one. We profoundly appreciate the greatness of your loss, for in a very real sense the loss suffered by any of us is a loss shared by all of us. When the medal, which you will soon receive, reaches you, I want you to know that with it goes my sincerest sympathy and the hope that time and victory of our cause will finally lighten the burden of your grief.
In May 2000 the Republic of Korea announced that it would issue a Korea War Service Medal “in appreciation for the service and sacrifice of nearly two million Americans during that brutal war.” A 2007 letter from Brigadier General Reuben D. Jones to Otmer’s sister Violet Marcus went on to say, “It is especially appropriate that those who remain unaccounted for have their sacrifices recognized.”
Though Otmer’s remains were not recovered, Gary Hodges has maps that indicate where his brother was killed. Through the years he has corresponded with a number of Army officials with the hope of resolving the matter, and the living Hodges brothers have provided DNA samples for comparison with any remains that are found. Gary, who became the unofficial family historian, has donated many of the papers detailing his brother’s service the West Virginia State Archives and his medals and other memorabilia to the West Virginia State Museum. Among Gary’s papers is a document indicating that the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) continues to search in South Korea. As of this writing (2011) they will be operating in the Pusan Perimeter near the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which offers some hope of eventually locating the remains. When that happens, Gary would like to bring his brother home to be buried with his parents.
The Hodges Brothers Bridge also honors the other five Hodges men who served: Army Pfc. Eugene Hodges (“Gene”) trained at Fort Hood, Texas, and participated in the D-Day landing in Normandy in World War II; he was a truck driver. Later, E4 Carl F. Hodges served at Fort Lewis, Washington, and became a military policeman with the Air Force. E4 Gerald Hodges (“Dicky”) served as a cook with the Navy’s 5th Naval District off North Korea. E4 Bobby Hodges was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the 1950s. E5 Larry Hodges trained at Fort Hood, Texas, and then was stationed Crailsheim, Germany, during his Army service in the 4th Armored Division.
Information and pictures provided by Otmer Hodges’ brother Gary. Article by Patricia Richards McClure.
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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