As the saying goes, Life is what happens while we’re busy making plans. In 1941, John Henry Hodges was teaching with the Albuquerque Public Schools while working on his master’s degree in history at the University of New Mexico. He’d completed all course work except the submission of his thesis when World War II came calling. Seventy-six years later, the History Department, with the help of the Office of Graduate Studies, is awarding Hodges a "retroactive" master’s degree which will be dated 1938, the last year he attended UNM. If that’s not milestone enough, Hodges turns 100 on Oct. 28.
Hodges spent most of his five years of active duty as a U.S. Army Air Corps officer, doing stints in the China-Burma-India and Asia Pacific theaters. At the time of his discharge he had attained the rank of Major and was detailed in the Inspector General Department.
Throughout the war, Hodges kept a journal titled In Reflections of World War II. Shortly after arriving in Calcutta, he wrote, “It’s 105 degrees inside my office and 126 degrees outside. I just heard on the radio that a U.S. transport was sunk in the Mediterranean with a loss of 1200 men. That’s the same route we took getting here. We were lucky.”
UNM President Robert Frank said, “Not only did John Henry Hodges study history, he lived it and documented his experiences in a journal. As a soon-to-be Centenarian, he is the embodiment of modern American history, and we are proud to recognize that contribution with a retroactive degree.”
A journal entry: “My job is Supply Officer. I was issued a jeep and I painted Thelma on the sides.” Thelma and Hodges were married shortly after he was drafted and remained married for 46 years, until her death in 1988.
Their daughter, Jane Hodges, Ph.D., resides in Atlanta and has been an educator for over 45 years. She said that her father instilled in her the importance of education. It was Jane who contacted Melissa Bokovoy, Chair of UNM’s History Department, hoping that her father might receive some form of recognition for his 100th birthday, as a former graduate of UNM and WWII veteran.
“The History Department faculty is honored to award Mr. Hodges an MA degree,” Bokovoy said. “His nearly completed thesis in 1938 on the life of Don Miguel Antonio Otero captured the interest of a number of our faculty who write on New Mexico’s territorial history, especially his use of oral histories from those who knew governor Otero. We celebrate Mr. Hodges just as he celebrates the history of New Mexico of which we are all part.”
A journal entry: “Bombay is a very strange place: cows walk everywhere, there’s a lot of filth, disease and poverty, but they sell just about everything in their little shops.”
Jane Hodges was always fascinated by the pictures and stories of India her father shared with her. “When I was a professor at Atlanta University Center, I had the opportunity to be a Fulbright Scholar to India and I jumped at the chance. I’ve continued international travel study and have visited or lived in over 75 countries,” she said.
When Hodges returned from the war, he settled in Amarillo, Texas. He became a realtor and a home builder, proud of the fact that he’d built many homes for returning veterans. The town honored Hodges by naming a street after him. He enjoys reading, watching sports and travels a bit. He especially likes visiting his children who are scattered in various locations throughout the U.S. In 1996, at the age of 82, he married Neta Carver and they continue to live in Amarillo.
A journal entry: “There is nothing left standing on this island [Okinawa]. A shell exploded next to me today and covered me with debris. Twenty seven men were killed and 100 are in the hospital. I’m ready for the war to end and go home.”
Hodges wound up in the hospital himself before leaving India. He had contracted amebic dysentery and fever. During his recovery he wrote that the quarters he’d left behind were leveled by a typhoon that also sunk 135 naval ships and killed scores of men.
Last journal entry: “I turned 31 years old on October 28, 1945. I survived the war.”