Sunday, August 5, 2018

Gil Hodges Was A World War II Marine


I don’t know why Gil Hodges isn’t in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. And, as much as it’s a crime that he isn’t in there, that is not what this column is about. This is about how Gil Hodges was a U.S. Marine in World War II and his legacy.

   All-time Dodger great and Mets skipper Gilbert Ray “Gil” Hodges (1924-1972) has one heck of a baseball resume under his belt. Hodges was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943. But, he only played one game for the franchise before entering the United States Marine Corps (also in 1943).

   Hodges served in the Pacific Theater and was an air defense artilleryman. At first, Hodges was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and later sent to nearby Kauai, where he played baseball with the 16th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. But, that was short-lived because then-Sergeant Gil Hodges was next ordered to Tinian.

   Tinian is a small island about five miles southwest of Saipan. During the war, a garrison of 8,500 Japanese soldiers held the island until they were evicted by the U.S. Marines in the Battle of Tinian (July 24 – Aug. 1, 1944). Of some note, only 313 Japanese combatants survived that action.  
Gil Hodges with the Mets

   So, Hodges was stationed at Tinian until his unit was moved in with the Marine forces set to invade Okinawa. Once there, Hodges went in with the first echelons of Marines who were brought ashore. The 82-day battle would last from April 1 to June 22, 1945. And, every single member of the Armed Forces who served on the island during that battle was in danger every minute of their time there.

   It was at the Battle of Okinawa where Hodges earned his Bronze Star. According to the citation for the medal, Hodges “was entrusted with the safeguarding and stenographic preparation of highly classified documents” through “extensive periods of enemy aerial alerts and extensive bombing attacks.”

   Hodges was not a combat infantryman. But, he certainly did his part during the battle, and the war for that matter. And, he remained at Okinawa until October 1946. On February 3, 1946, SGT Gil Hodges was honorably discharged from the Corps, at the age of 22.

Hodges was awarded the Bronze Star
   On February 3, 1946, SGT Gil Hodges was honorably discharged from the Corps, at the age of 22. For the rest of his life, Gil Hodges wouldn’t make a big deal about his time in uniform. When asked, he would be reticent with regard to talking about the war. He was a humble guy and a down-to-earth one.

   Maybe more than a Marine, a ball player or a manager, Gil Hodges was a family man first. He was married to the former Joan Lombardi and they had four children: Irene, Barbara, Cynthia and Gil Jr. 

   On the diamond, and between the lines, Hodges’ record speaks for itself. He played the game between 1943 and 1963. Hodges patrolled the outfield and played first base for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (and one year with the Mets as a player) and made eight All-Star appearances, 1949-1955 and 1957; he was a part of three World Series-winning teams, 1955, 1959 and one with the Mets in 1969 as manager. He also won three Golden Glove awards, during the 1957-1959 seasons.

Gil Hodges answered his country's call in World War II

   After he retired from baseball, Hodges coached the Washington Senators from 1963 to 1967, and the “Amazing Mets” from 1968 to 1971.

   Sadly, in April 1972, Gil Hodges’ retirement was cut short when he died of a heart attack in West Palm Beach, Florida. But, what he left behind was a legendary baseball career, and a rich life as a role model and good family man. In these days of ‘sports entertainers’ (rather than ball players), Hodges’ kind of quiet, team-focused confidence is hard to come by in professional sports, or anywhere for that matter.

1 comment:

  1. Hodges served in a command post trailer, receiving info and using it to reposition the AAA batteries. Under daily fire from enemy strafing runs, the entire time. Just another hero.


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