I watched one episode of the television show "Survivors” because a colleague told me it was good. These people were not survivors. I knew a real survivor and believe me these television actors were not survivors. Herbie Hodge would have put them all to shame.
On May 13, 1945, just after noon on the island of Okinawa, Sergeant Herbert Hodge lay blind, almost dead, under the blistering Okinawa sun. Seven slugs from a Japanese .31 caliber machine gun pierced his mangled body. He listened to the prayers of the wounded and dying who lay shot next to him and heard their frantic cries for corpsmen. He ached to help them but he couldn't see or move; his left arm was shattered and he was bleeding from seven different holes in his upper torso.
The corpsmen finally reached him. Herbie was lifted onto a jeep and driven away. The strain and loss of blood caused him to go into a coma on the trip to the navy hospital. He remained in a coma for eight days
The navy doctor did a cursory visual examination of Herbie and shook his head. His recommendation: shoot Herbie full of morphine and let him die painlessly.
Fortunately for Herbie, a corpsman friend of his on the scene did not accept the doctor's diagnosis. He found a jeep and drove a few miles to a hospital further up the road where an army captain promised to try to save Herbie’s life, but he was doubtful.
Herbie lost his left arm that day in 1945, but he was alive.
The matronly nurse at the army hospital would not leave Herbie alone. She scolded him when he began to pity himself. She spoon-fed him. She changed his cloths and made his bed. There was no room for self-pity in her hospital. She literally forced him to start living again. She was as instrumental as the army captain and the corpsman were in saving Herbie's life.
When I knew Herbie, he worked as the supervisor of the Veteran Representatives on Campus for the Massachusetts area located on the fourth floor of Boston’s John F. Kennedy Building. He was a GS-11. After he left the marines in 1947, he started as a messenger for the VA Hospital at 17 Court Street, Boston. His main duty was carrying medical folders from floor to floor in the multi-storied building. He was a CPC-1, the lowest government designation. After a couple of years in that position, he became an information receptionist in the Contact Division, a GS-3 position. After that, it was all uphill.
Herbie had been close to death at least a half dozen times. He’d been through four beachheads. He earned three purple hearts, one Bronze Star, and one Silver Star. In 1963, Herbie was struck with a kidney malfunction, which hospitalized him. While in the hospital he also contracted staph pneumonia. His condition was so critical that the last rites were administered to him.
Herbie laughed and joked about his brushes with death. He accepted death for what it was: an unwelcomed guest, but a guest none-the-less. Herbie did not worry about dying. His philosophy was that life was predestined. Nothing you did would change what God had in store for you.
A standard joke of Herbie's was to pretend to small gullible minds that he lost his arm in a revolving door of a USO building while chasing a nurse. His humor and easy-going nature made him a favorite in the Veterans Services Office. People just naturally took to him.
Herbie was not petty, vindictive, or bitter. If you asked him if he was a survivor, he would answer in pure humility that there was a determined corpsman, a talented doctor, and a tough old nurse somewhere who deserved all the credit.
All he did was live.
I don't remember exactly when I wrote this, but it must have been when I was living and going to school in Boston, MA. Herbie Hodge worked in the VA office there and reveled me with his stories. I don't know if his unwelcomed guest visited him again or not, but I know that I am a better person for knowing him.