AMES — An observance at Iowa State University will honor two former students who served and died in military service. One of the honorees is Robert Lynn Hodson, who was born in Eldon on Feb. 8, 1918. He died during World War II. His name is being engraved on the wall of the ISU Memorial Union’s Gold Star Hall, and his life will be remembered in a campus ceremony Friday.
Iowa State has been able to memorialize Hodson with help and materials from his extended family.
Hodson grew up on his parent’s farm, a mile south of the Eldon “Y” on Highway 98. He graduated from Agency High School in 1936 and attended Iowa State College for two years. Hodson trained as a navigator in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Texas and at the Pan-American Navigation School in Miami. He advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on June 16, 1941. In December 1941, he was promoted to second lieutenant.
While living in Florida, Hodson met Evelyn Ruth Grant, a business school student. They were married in the summer of 1942 in the Highland Methodist Church. Shortly afterward, he was sent overseas.
Hodson was assigned to the 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force under Col. Archie Old, commanding officer for the 45th Combat Bombardment Wing (Heavy) based in Snetterton Heath, England. He was the navigator on a B-17 “Flying Fortress.”
Hodson’s B-17 crew was assigned to an air attack on a German ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt, The raid was devised as a daylight precision-bombing raid.
On Oct. 14, 1943, 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses and 60 B-24 Liberators took off for their mission. Although the 96th endured repeated fighter attacks for 90 minutes on the way to Schweinfurt, Col. Old’s aircraft evaded damage. The Fertile Myrtle moved toward its target unprotected on a dead reckoning course.
The Fertile Myrtle’s pilot wrote, “The Fortress experienced little difficulty until it got to Schweinfurt. .... (the) bombardier was knocked from the sight by the force of a nearby explosion, but this didn’t prevent him from going back to the sight and dropping his bombs.”
They circled for the return journey, and enemy fighters dived in and engaged in a long and relentless battle. Flying over the Rhine, the plane received its most serious blow, an explosion that smashed the Plexiglas nose. Col. Olds was thrown upward and the entire ship shook. Both the No. 1 and No. 2 engines were set afire, smoking heavily.
The damaging flak burst killed Hodson, whose last words were to give the pilot orders on the new course of correction. Hodson was the only crewmember who died. Capt. William Jones, Hodson’s assistant lead navigator, though wounded, took over to get the ship back home.
With the loss of two engines, the Fertile Myrtle dropped in altitude from 21,000 to 11,000 feet where it became prey to five German fighters. After downing two and discouraging the remaining three enemy aircraft, the B-17 continued with its two good engines. In spite of fighter opposition, it returned to England.
Among flight crews, Hodson was a popular officer, and his briefings to navigators before missions were very effective. On the morning of the Oct. 14 raid, he was seen checking his equipment thoroughly. Yet he failed to put on his flak suit, a measure that could have saved his life.
In life, Hodson was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for heroism in an aerial flight, for his participation in shuttle raids between England and Africa and the bombing of Regensgurt; and was awarded the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, for meritorious achievement in an aerial flight in the national emergency since Sept. 8, 1939. At his death, he received the Army Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster for gallantry in situations not warranting the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Purple Heart Medal, for those wounded in action against the enemy.