Chapter 1: Letter to Antiochians 1944

Original Memories: By Philip Gibson Hodge Jr. and Thea Elaine Drell Hodge

1943-1960: Volume II Chapter 1

Intro:  Although I did not formally graduate from Antioch College until June 1943, I finished all of my work there and physically left in December 1942. Apparently this document was written to other Antiochians; I don’t remember if it was to a small group of my closest friends, or was sent to the Alumni magazine; the lack of a heading suggests the latter. It is undated, but was probably written sometime during the first three months of 1944.

1944: When I left Antioch on December 24, 1942, there were three unanswered questions in my mind. The first two concerned my career for the duration of the war. I had had two very good offers for graduate school in mathematics – one from NYU and the other from Brown. Both colleges seemed assured that they could get my deferment. The other possibility open was the U.S. Maritime Service. I knew little about it then, but instinctively preferred it to the Army.

I finally chose the Maritime Service – and I’m not quite sure what my reasons were. I think the chief one was that I was tired of studying. This was not due so much to the fact that I had spend four and a half years at college – the time had been broken by my jobs – but by the events going on in the world. Academically, I could, of course, see the advantages and the usefulness of continuing to improve my mind, but as applied to myself at the time, I just wasn’t satisfied with it. My thinking had started with an irrational pacifism as war broke out. But as the war progressed, my pacifism no longer satisfied me. I did not have the spiritual backing necessary to continue it – not in the presence of public opinion or events – but in my own mind, which was continually re-evaluating my position. I still had enough of my earlier beliefs left so that I didn’t want to kill. But I did want to share in some way in the struggle being waged – I believed that our side, while not perfect, was enough better to be worth considerable sacrifice.

The Maritime Service seemed to be the answer. There I would be contributing as much as anyone. And my desire for action would be satisfied – I would be able to see my contribution clearly. A second thing which influenced me was closely connected with the first. At the time, I had an appeal for a 1-A-O classification hanging fire. I was afraid that, if I chose the graduate work, and if my appeal was turned down, I might be drafted into the army – if not immediately, then in six months. And I wanted to avoid that dilemma if at all possible. I didn’t want to kill – didn’t think I could kill. And yet I did want to help – did not want to spend the war in jail. I didn’t know which course I would choose – and any course which might force the choice upon me was to be avoided.

The other problem was considerably easier to decide. On Monday, December 28, Thea and I decided to get married. A hectic week of blood tests, licenses, Ministers, families, etc., ensued, and on Sunday, January 3, 1943, we were pronounced man and wife. A brief but thoroughly perfect honeymoon in Boston, and we returned to a one-room apartment on West 70th Street in New York. We found the apartment the same day Thea found herself a job in the office of the Provost of New York University.

I had already started enrolling in the Maritime Service, and was waiting to be called. Meanwhile, Thea supported us on $90 a month, while I led the existence of a cotquean (you’ll have to look it up if you don’t know the meaning). Finally on the 6th of February, I made my acquaintance with the United States Maritime Service Training Station at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York.

When I entered the Maritime, I had honestly planned on completing the three months course of training, and shipping out as an ordinary seaman. However, I soon found out about another angle of the service, known as the Ship’s Company. This consisted of doing the administrative work necessary to run a training organization of some 10,000 men. The pay was $70 a month instead of $50, and you rated liberty two nights out of three and two weekends out of three, instead of just every weekend, as was the case with trainees.

So, in less than a week, I was working in the disbursing department, making out pay lists, etc. My plan had been to do this for a few months, so that Thea and I could have that much more time together. Then I would return to my training, and she would return to Antioch. However, a lucky break changed my plans again: As I was getting the approval of the Executive Officer to join Ship’s Company, he noticed on my application that I had majored in math. And he said something about the station needing a man to teach a mathematics refresher course in the process of being set up. And so I started on my teaching career.

It began modestly enough. I would work from eight to four in the Disbursing Office, and then teach one class from four to five. And the things I taught that first class! I started absolutely from scratch. One night I went to a classroom and found a lot of fellows expecting to learn something. Well, in the course of five weeks I covered a review of arithmetic and elementary algebra, and introduction to logarithms, trigonometry, a little analytical geometry, and some simple vector analysis. I don’t imagine they got a great deal out of it – but I had a lot of fun!

The next class I only had for three weeks, and did not try to cover quite as much territory. But still I zoomed. The course was designed for men applying for the Maritime Radio School. Men had been flunking out of radio school at a terrific rate, and many of them had been overcome by the math. It was soon evident that the refresher course was a first class idea – but one class every once in a while was not enough. Needless to say, I was exerting all my pressure in the direction of more courses, and in the middle of March the necessary directives came through. I was transferred full-time to the Training Department, raised in rating to Yeoman Third Class (corresponds to  a sergeant in the Army) at a salary of $109.20 a month. I worked from two to ten p.m. and had every morning and evening at home. I taught four classes a night, two for radio school, and two for men applying for the pharmacist mate-ship’s clerk school. The radio course started every other week and covered arithmetic and algebra in four weeks. The other course started every week and confined itself to arithmetic.

Meanwhile, Thea and I had moved to a one-room apartment on Brighton Beach – a twenty minute walk from the Base, and about as far from Coney Island. One large room with a completely equipped kitchen built into one wall. We were, and still are, thoroughly satisfied. As the months roll by it becomes more and more our home – each new purchase, each article of furniture painted made it seem that much more like home. While we wouldn’t want particularly to raise our children in Brighton Beach, we are satisfied with it as a residence for the duration.

Since then both the quality and the quantity of the work has grown. First one, then two, finally about four trainee assistants have been added to my staff. These are men going through their “work week” (seven days of labor ranging from 14 hours a day in the mess hall or 12 hours a day standing watch to good jobs as messenger or working for me), or are already selected for radio school and awaiting on opening in the quota. And a permanent ship’s company man (a Harvard man, no less) is working for me and teaching half the classes.

The courses now consist of a one-week arithmetic course for the pharmacist mate-ship’s clerk men; a three-week course covering arithmetic and algebra for the radiomen; and a five week course covering arithmetic, logarithms, and trigonometry for men applying for Army Transport Corps Marine Officer’s Cadet School. I am now a Specialist First Class, with three red stripes and a pay of $159.60 a month. Draft board permitting, I will probably stay here for the duration.

The draft board caused me considerable trouble last spring. One fine day in May I received a letter beginning “Greetings”, along with a card telling me I was classified 1-A-O. I immediately made out leave papers, and started for Ohio (being registered with good old board #2 in Xenia). We left here Saturday and stopped off at Atlantic City, home of Thea’s parents. While there we received a phone call from my parents via our landlord informing us that a second letter had arrived cancelling the first, and telling me instead to report for a physical exam. So, I dispatched a letter telling them I couldn’t make it in Ohio and please transfer me to Brooklyn. I also sent off by mail an affidavit from the Base requesting my deferment, and letter to Brother Max asking him to contact the draft board at frequent intervals and let me know the result. After two weeks or so of anxious waiting the verdict came and it was not good.

So, I armed myself with another leave, a letter from the Training Officer implying that the Maritime service would collapse if they were to draft me, and a clean uniform, and started for Ohio. This time I got there, pleaded my case before the Board, and after due consideration, was granted a 2-B. I breathed easy again. And when it expired in December, it was renewed without question. But while I was in Ohio, another induction notice arrived at Brooklyn, which added to Thea’s peace of mind!!

Now a few words about the Maritime: It’s a civilian organization, sponsored by the War Shipping Administration. The regular training program is three or four months long, and graduates men as ordinary seamen in the deck division, or as firemen or water-tenders in the engine division, or as messmen in the steward division. These positions have a base pay of $82.50 plus war bonuses, which aren’t what they used to be. Then there are the special schools: cooks and bakers and carpenters, about which I know nothing.

Radio school consists of about two months boot training at Sheepshead Bay plus eight months at Gallups Island, Boston. On completion, a man has his second class FCC license, and can get a job as a radio operator (base pay $150) aboard ship. After six months sea duty he gets an Ensign’s commission in the Maritime.

Hospital Corps-Ship’s Clerk school is a similar deal. After boot training you take three months pharmacist’s mate training, and month purser training all at Sheepshead Bay, then a month’s work in a hospital or sick bay. Aboard ship you are a junior staff officer with about the same prestige, etc. as a radio operator.

Army Transport Corps is probably the most exciting and dangerous of the lot. After completing deck or engineer training here, a man goes to St. Petersburg for two additional months specialized training. What he gets depends upon all sorts of things. The least is the third officers papers on these small landing barges. Some qualified men may get second or even first officers paper on the same type of craft. Many of the men are offered commissions in the army, although there is no obligation to accept these. Although this is the fastest road to a commission and action and good pay, it offers very little permanence. After the war, your papers would probably only be good for a tug boat.

About the Maritime, and the Radio School in particular, I refer to Jim Woog’s and Arnie Shufro’s article in the Alumni Bulletin. Don’t believe most of the things they say about me, but the dope on the service is pretty accurate. I’m not sorry I joined, and believe that for people as accustomed to freedom as Antiochians were (and still are, I presume) it is much more palatable than the Army. One caution: The special schools are very limited now. Radio school, for instance, accepts fifteen men a month. The attitude should be, join planning on deck, engine, or steward; then try to make the special school. ATC is the most open, particularly the deck division. And if you come yourself, or send any of your friends, be sure and look me up.

There’ve been a good many Antiochians here already. When I joined, Bob Forman and John Chapin were here and showed me the ropes. John was taking the pharmacist’s mate course (at that time independent of the purser), and Bob was in Ship’s Company, waiting for an opening in the same course. Bob left one day in February, with medical discharge – seemed they discovered a truce of TB. John finished up his course, worked in the sick bay at Cadet School in Great Neck on Long Island, and then got tired of waiting to ship out. So he and Bob joined the Navy entirely independently of each other. Needless to say they were surprised to run into each other in the mess hall of Great Lakes Naval Training Station. When last heard from, John was in California waiting to see service as a Pharmacist’s Mate in the South Pacific, and Bob was waiting assignment to a school for Chaplain Training in the V-12 program.

Don Ritchie and Hank Paley were both here for quite a while. Don graduated as a pharmacist’s mate, and I imagine, is aboard ship now. Hank went to Cadet School in California. I didn’t see much of either of them.

Jim Woog and Arnie Shufro and John Dunaway all came in about the same time and went to Radio School. Jim and Arnie worked for me a while. They claim I was a slave driver, but with some men you have to be! They’re both about due to finish Radio School in a couple of months.

Dick Eastman didn’t join the Maritime, but I saw him last summer. When Max went out to Antioch to get his car, he talked Dick into driving back East with him, just for the ride. Dick’s now at a CPS Camp in Colorado.

Max also joined up last fall. He worked for me for a couple of months, waiting to go to Radio School, and finally left for Gallup’s Island last week.

You may wonder why I turned down a chance to do graduate work, but am now satisfied to stay in Brooklyn as a teacher. I’m not quite sure, myself. Most of it is that I’m where I can see the results of what I’m doing. I’m not actually delivering the goods myself, but I’m teaching the fellows that are. If I were to go into training myself, I’d just be one person aboard a ship. Last year I had almost 2,000 men in my classes. If but a small percentage of those men qualified for positions as radio operators or other specialists aboard ship due to my teaching, I would be far more effective than as one more person aboard a ship. And while I’m not the only person by far who could teach the particular courses I do, the fact is that I’m the only one who does – and I haven’t had any offers for my job as yet. And there’s no question that the courses have enabled many men to make the grade who otherwise would have failed.

Another thing is that I am in uniform. We kid a lot about Ship’s Company being draft dodgers and being too young to die and all that, but still we are a part of something big and important. I’m not proud of being associated with anything military, and yet under present world conditions I am sort of proud of being part of a country that, with all its faults, is, I believe, on the right side. The uniform, the saluting, the often stupid regulations, the guards at the gate, the set hours – all that sums up to a feeling that you’re doing your part.

One thing, in particular, that makes me proud of the Maritime, is their attitude towards Negroes. There is absolutely no official discrimination here. And there’s practically no unofficial discrimination. Where a man bunks is determined by his place in the alphabet–Negro members of a section are coxswains of their lifeboats just as often as anyone else. It’s really inspiring to see democracy and equality actually at work. A few of the men from the deep south may object at first – and a few of the extremists may imagine discrimination exists – but the great majority see the Negro being accepted as equal, and accept him that way themselves. At the same time, of course, it’s discouraging, because it shows what a great opportunity the Army missed in not trying the same system from the start.

That’s about all I know, except what I read in the Alumni Bulletin. I still look back to my years at Antioch, and those at Cakhurst in particular. Any news of Antiochians, past, present, or future, would be extremely welcome. You can address me either:

Sp (T) 1/c P.G. Hodge
Classification & Selection Office
Building C-2
USMSTS, Sheepshead Bay
Brooklyn 29, New York


Philip Hodge, Jr.
22 Corbin Place
Brooklyn, N.Y.