Athens Historian Volume I (1996)

By Dan Magill Edward

Reginald Hodgson, a carriage maker in Newcastleupon-Tyne, England, came to Athens in 1839, and many of his descendants have brought honor to the Hodgson name. They are certainly one of Athens’ most distinguished families.

During World War II, three members of this family made the supreme sacrifice for their country:

Lewis Gordon, whose mother was Nannette Hodgson, was a Marine Corps pilot and died in the South Pacific action. His father was Hugh Gordon, Jr., a football star at the University of Georgia in the early 1900s and his great-grandfather was the revered Confederate States of America General John B. Gordon.

Robert F. Hodgson, first cousin of Lewis Gordon, was an Army Air Force pilot and died in a training accident. His father was Morton Hodgson, Sr., the University of Georgia’s immortal four-letter athlete.

Winston D. Hodgson, son of Charles Hodgson, was a Marine Corps platoon leader who died in action during some of the fiercest fighting in the capture of the Japanese key stronghold: Okinawa.

Lewis Gordon and Robert F. Hodgson were “city” boys and received excellent training at the old Athens YMCA under the illustrious Walter Tillou (“W.T.”) Forbes (the University of Georgia’s first basketball coach, incidentally, in 1905). Winston Hodgson, the oldest of these three, lived in the “country,” out on what is now Hodgson Drive, near King Avenue. Following his father’s death, Winston’s mother and brothers Neal and Charles, Jr., managed Athens’ leading dairy in those days. I well recall, as a boy, accompanying my mother to the dairy when my mother visited Mrs. Hodgson, who served delicious “beaten biscuits,” and Winston showed me around the dairy and let me watch him “milk” the cows.

Living in the “country,” Winston had the opportunity to do what “country” boys like to do: hunt and fish. And he had the reputation of being one of the best hunters in the country. He hunted mainly raccoons, rabbits, duck and dove. (There were not as many deer around then as there are today.) His best friend was Walter Wilfong, Jr. On the recommendation of Athens High’s famous football coach, Howell Hollis (later an outstanding freshman football and varsity golf coach at Georgia), they were given football scholarships to Georgia by Coach Harry Mehre.

Winston and Walter, the inseparable friends, were the regular guards on Georgia’s freshman team in 1935. They were held out as sophomores in ‘36 and played on the Red Devil scrub team. They were varsity performers the next three years, developing into “regulars.” Winston’s running mate at guard his senior season in ‘39 (Coach Wallace Butts’ first year at the helm) was alternate captain Howard (Smiley) Johnson, who also became a Marine platoon leader and died in the conquest of Iwo Jima where his valor won him a second Navy Cross.

After the death of Winston’s parents, he lived with the Wilfong family, and Mrs. Ophelia Wilfong treated him as she did her own four sons. Walter recalls that Winston always sent Mrs. Wilfong flowers on Mother’s Day during his four years in the Marines. The last ones she received were just two weeks before he died May 30, 1945, on Okinawa.

Walter, who was ineligible for military service since he had lost an arm in an automobile accident June 8, 1941, well remembers the day the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.

“It was a Sunday,” reflects Walter. “Winston and I were taking a truck load of chickens to South Florida, as I did regularly. We sold the chickens and then picked up a load of fish to take back to my family’s fish store in Athens. When we returned home this time, Winston joined the army. He wanted to be a pilot, and he was doing fine in training at a base in Mississippi and would have won his wings, but he got into an argument with an instructor – Winston had a hot temper – after which he decided to transfer to another branch of the service. It was a lucky day for the Marine Corps when he joined the Marines in June 1942.”

After Boot Camp training in Parris Island, S.C., Winston made such an impressive record that he was made a drill instructor (D.I.) there. Incidentally, when I myself went through Boot Camp and Parris Island in December 1942, I looked up Winston on a cold Sunday afternoon. We chatted about “old days” in Athens and were especially pleased that Georgia’s football team had just won the SEC and was headed for the Rose Bowl, which game I listened to on a radio in Winston’s drill instructor’s hut New Year’s Day 1943. That is, I had his permission to put my head against the side of his hut and listen to the radio account. It was against regulations for a “boot” to fraternize in the hut of a D.I.

Winston spent a year and a half as a D.I. at Parris Island. His frequent request for combat duty overseas finally was granted, and he was transferred to Camp LeJeune, N.C., where his commanding officer recognized his leadership qualities and sent Winston to Officers’ Candidate Class at Quantico, Va. He graduated second of his class of 200 and was then sent to San Diego, Ca., for training at Camp Pendleton. There he fell in love with a colonel’s daughter, Walter Wilfong recalls, and they planned to be married after the war.

En route to the invasion of Okinawa, Winston’s outfit stopped for further training on the island of Guam, where he met some Marines who had been in Smiley Johnson’s platoon on Iwo Jima. Walter recalls that Winston told those Marines that he would try to avenge Smiley’s death.

Walter relates a story told him by an Athenian, C.L. Williams, Jr., who was in Winston’s platoon on Okinawa. Williams recounted the details of Winston’s death, citing that Winston was leading his men up a mountain, preparing to attack Japanese in a cave. Winston’s last words were: “I’m going up to the cave and throw a grenade into it, and I don’t want any of you following me until I give you the ‘all clear’ signal.” The cave, though, held a large supply of ammunition, and according to Williams, the grenade caused a tremendous explosion that blew the top off the mountain. The concussion killed Winston instantly.

Here are several excerpts from letters that beautifully attest to the respect and admiration held for Winston by his fellow officers. They were sent to Winston’s older brother Neal Hodgson, and include words from the Commandant of the Marines and a priceless letter from the Commanding General of the Sixth Marine Corps Division (later the Commandant).

“Winston was with us only a very short time, but it doesn’t take such a man very long to make his impression on people’s minds. For he was a courageous platoon leader and a fine officer. He rests now in the 6th Division Cemetery on Okinawa. His grave is beautifully cared for and I can assure you it will continue to be.” (Signed Eugene T. Lawless, 1st Lt., Company “C,” 6th Marine Division) “…

Your brother Winston asked one of my friends to write you if anything happened to him, but that friend was also killed so I’m doing what I think is right in writing to you. I would have done it earlier, but I just got out of the hospital. … Winston was one of the best men I have known and was a great officer. Not a finer man ever lived. Everyone liked and admired him. … I was about 100 yards away when Winston was killed. My platoon was tied in with his, and we were advancing through Naha. Winston told his men to hold up while he threw a grenade into a Jap tomb. He did, and a terrific explosion resulted as the tomb was filled with picric acid charges. Winston never knew what hit him as rocks and debris filled the air. … Once again may I extend my deepest sympathy in your great loss.” (Signed: Robert Knauf, 2nd Lt., “A” Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Regiment, 6th Marines)

“On behalf of the officers and men of the Sixth Marine Division, I wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your brother during the recent battle for Okinawa. … Upon learning of Lieutenant Hodgson’s death, I immediately made inquiry into the circumstances and obtained the following information. On May 30, 1945, the day your brother was killed, the Sixth Marine Division was engaged in heavy fighting at the City of Naha, capital of Okinawa. At the time of his death, Lieutenant Hodgson was investigating a series of cave entrances preparatory to sealing them, when a large Japanese demolition charge exploded. A corpsman immediately rushed to administer first aid, but found upon arrival that the concussion had killed your brother instantly. Colonel William J. Whaling, his regimental commander, spoke most highly of your brother’s courage and outstanding qualities of leadership which he demonstrated in the short period he was with the Twenty-ninth Marines. His indomitable fighting spirit was a source of inspiration to his men. His untimely death is a definite loss to the Sixth Marine Division. On July 4, 1945, a special memorial service was held at the Sixth Marine Division Cemetery in honor of those brave men who lie buried there. …” (Signed: Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., Major General, USMC, Commanding, Sixth Marine Division)