Friday, April 1, 2016

Roy Ray Hodge

I don't know much about him having never met the man and only hearing his story several times removed from the source. Like my great-grandfather, George Henry Quinton, my uncle, Roy Ray Hodge, was reported to have made an epic journey, a life threatening one which involved a long and difficult trek on foot. Also like George Quinton, I only know the skeleton of his story, and I'm not sure how much of that is accurate.

Dad never said much about him. Unlike his brothers, he had a middle name. My dad was just Roger Hodge. My uncle CD was just CD until the military made him turn those letters into initials and he legally became Charles Dale. He, Roy, was older than my father by several years, and as a boy I think he and his other brothers-- there were six boys in that family-- were mischievous, adventurous, bad. Really bad. Those older boys stole chickens, scrap iron, and watermelons. They stole the chickens to sell so they could buy sugar to make home brew. They smoked cigarettes, drank their homemade beer, fought with fists sometimes for fun and sometimes in anger. Once they ran away from home because they didn't want to chop cotton and then had to chop cotton to earn enough money to get back home. That's just the little bit of what Dad told me. 

I learned more from my uncle CD. Dad, CD, and I were in his truck one day a dozen or fifteen years ago, and though I can't remember where we went or why, I do remember vividly some of the things they had to say that day. I remember because they struck that cord deep within me, that part of me that yearns to connect with my ancestors. The older I become, the stronger that part of me grows. CD began to talk about their youth, and my uncle let things out that day which Dad had never told me and though my uncle wasn't known for always telling the truth, I took my father's lack of correction as consent that CD was telling God's sanction.

I learned more about the grandfather I never met, who died before I was born. He is the one I thought I knew a bit about because Dad had talked of him often. I learned things that day that left me stunned, silent, and somewhat sad. But it is not he I wish to write about now, rather his son Roy. I learned one thing about Roy that also left me stunned, silent, and sad. 

The chief thing I learned about Roy was why he left home. Maybe other reasons were involved, but CD spoke of a fight, a physical confrontation between my grandfather and his son which resulted in the son standing over the father with an ax in his hands raised above his head. After deciding not to chop his dad's head off, he threw the ax down, climbed over a barbed wire fence that marked the property line, and walked away in silence. The family never saw him again.

He joined the United States Marines in part because a war was ongoing and in part, no doubt, to get away from home. Maybe there was the idea of adventure involved also. Their world had been small. Dad once told me that as a boy he thought the world ended just outside Estes Switch, Mississippi. I wish I could ask him, Roy, about these things myself.

Roy's home-leaving adventure took him to the Pacific Theater of World War II to some funny sounding places that I wonder if a boy from Estes Switch could even spell, exotic islands like Guadalcanal and others. I wish I knew more about his military service. I do know he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. My aunt Mary, who is younger than Dad and was still living at home when all of this took place, remembers the little cards that were mailed home from time to time saying he was well, was being treated nicely, and little else. She, Mary, is the one who told me that Roy had been in the Bataan Death March.

That really got my attention. How I wish I could confirm that and could discuss the journey with my long dead uncle. Like George Quinton's foot journey from Utah to Mississippi, I want to know more, I want details, I want to hear about it firsthand with my own ears. But like George's journey, the means of learning more are no longer within my grasp.  

My mother did some sleuthing on the internet and found that Roy is officially listed as "missing in action." The story Dad and Mary told me is that Roy was placed on a Japanese ship for transport to the mainland to be used as slave labor. Against the Geneva Convention, the ship he was on was not flying a flag that was to mark it as a vessel bearing prisoners. The Allies sank the ship and inadvertently killed over a thousand of their own, Roy being one of them. 

Today Roy is a faded photograph on a wall in my aunt's house, a hole in my heart, and a cluster of question in my head. The handsome but lost son has a headstone in the little cemetery at Flower Ridge United Methodist Church near Louisville and outside the now defunct Estes Switch. But his bones lie somewhere on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean far far away from a barbed wire fence he climbed over in Winston County proving to my dad and himself that the world doesn't end just outside of Estes Switch, Mississippi.