David Lawton Hodges
Lieutenant, United States Navy
April 16, 1999
The remains of six American servicemen previously unaccounted-for from thewar in Southeast Asia have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial in the United States.
They are identified as Air Force Captain Dean A. Wadsworth, Clarendon, Texas; Marine Staff Sergenat Harold E. Reid, Salt Lake City, Utah; Navy Lieutenant David L. Hodges, Chevy Chase, Maryland; Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Lewis M. Robinson, Saginaw, Michigan; Air Force Captain Douglas K. Martin, Tyler, Texas; and Air Force Captain Samuel L. James, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
On October 7, 1967, Hodges was leading a strike mission near Hanoi, North Vietnam when his A-4E Skyhawk was struck by an enemy surface-to-air missile. His wingman reported receiving a radio transmission from the lieutenant that his engine had flamed out. As the wingman watched, Hodges' burning aircraft rolled to the right, entered a steep dive, and crashed. No parachute was sighted and no emergency beeper signals were heard. Because of enemy control of the area, there was no search and rescue missi on mounted.
Acting on information obtained from Vietnamese
wartime documents, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese team interviewed villagers in
July 1995 who claimed to have visited the site shortly after the crash
and buried the pilot. But the crash crater had been filled with dirt
to allow farming, so the team found no evidence of a crash. But the
following April, another team mounted an excavation at the site where they
did recover remains, a wristwatch fragment, pilot-related items and aircraft
wreckage. Later, in September 1996, a third team continued the excavation
and found additional remains among the wreckage.
By Steve Vogel
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Monday, April 19, 1999
David Hodges loved flying so much that by the time he graduated from Bthesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1955, he had already received both a private pilot's and a commercial airman's license.
He would take to the skies from a small airfield in Montgomery County, honing his skills and entertaining his friends. "He used to buzz the Hot Shoppe," recalled his mother, Harriet Hodges, 87, who lives in Derwood, in Montgomery County. "He was quite a boy.
"He loved dangerous things," she said. "He wanted to fly; he wanted to be a Navy pilot. He wanted to land his plane on a carrier."
While David Hodges was leading a strike mission near Hanoi on October 7, 1967, his attack plane was shot down by a North Vietnamese missile. His body, deep in enemy territory, was not recovered. He was 29 and left behind a wife and two young daughters.
On Friday, nearly 32 years after he died, the Pentagon announced that the remains of Lieutenant David L. Hodges, along with five other service members previously unaccounted for, had been found and identified.
Harriet Hodges welcomed the news. "I would hate to think he was a prisoner," she said. "He died doing what he liked doing best."
David Hodges's sister, Martha Stewart, said that while listening in recent days to the news about NATO airstrikes in Yugoslavia, she often thought of her brother. "It really brings back some memories," said Stewart, who lives in Denton, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. "It seems the U.S. government is getting us caught in something again."
Handsome and outgoing, David Hodges got into his share of shenanigans, his mother remembered. "He was a kid who liked to get into things," she said. "But he would never duck out of his responsibility, and he would never tell a lie."
After two years at the University of Maryland, Hodges joined the Air Force and served with the Strategic Air Command in the Mediterranean. But he chafed at the peacetime mission. "It was too calm for him," his mother said.
"He thought Navy flying was the only way to go," his sister said.
Hodges transferred to the Navy in 1963 and eventually was sent to Vietnam. He was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses on his first tour and played an important role in a mission destroying a strategic bridge, his mother said. He volunteered for a second tour.
Flying off the USS Orlskany on October 7, 1967,
Hodges led a strike mission
Near Hanoi, his A-4E Skyhawk was struck by a surface-to-air missile. Hodges radioed his wingman to report that his engine had flamed out. As the wingman watched, Hodges's burning aircraft rolled to the right, entered a steep dive and crashed.
The wingman looked in vain for a parachute. No emergency beeper signals were heard. Because the plane had gone down deep in enemy territory, no search-and-rescue mission was launched, the Pentagon said. Hodges was classified as missing in action.
In the more than three decades that have passed, Hodges's wife has remarried, and his two daughters, Carolyn and Alison, have both married and had children.
"It's hard to believe, but he'd be a grandfather now," said Harriet Hodges.
The passing of time also has brought a certain rapprochement between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments. The Vietnamese have been cooperating in recent years with U.S. efforts to determine the fate of the more than 2,000 Americans still unaccounted for from the war.
Using information from Vietnamese wartime documents, in July 1995, a joint American-Vietnamese team traveled to the area where the plane was shot down.
The investigators interviewed villagers who said they had visited the site after the crash and buried the pilot. But the crater caused by the crash had been filled with dirt and farmed over, and the team was unable to find evidence of a crash.
In April 1996, another team began excavating the site and found human remains, aircraft wreckage, a wristwatch fragment and items that a pilot would have had. A third team continued the excavation in September 1996 and found more remains among the wreckage.
Martha Stewart gave a blood sample that allowed military investigators working at the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii to make a DNA comparison with the remains found by the team. "I felt it would be the final satisfaction for everyone," said Stewart, who noted that her niece urged her to provide the sample.
The family may have a service at Arlington National Cemetery, according to Stewart.
But Harriet Hodges said she did not need the return of her son's remains to come to peace with his death.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," she said. "He's
not in those ashes. I believe he and I will meet again in the afterlife."
Posted: 26 August 2001 - Updated: 5 July 2004 Updated: 15 May 2006