Harriet Hodges Interview, June 2007
I was born November 12, 1917, in a small town in upper New York state called AuSable Forks. It is very close to Lake Placid, New York, where the Olympics were held in 1930. I had two brothers and two sisters, with one brother and one sister older, and other brother and sister younger. We spent most of our spare time on sports. In the winter, we skied and skated. In the summer there was a very nice lake near one of my father’s restaurants where we would go swimming, and we also did a lot of horseback riding.
My father owned two restaurants. He was very busy and worked very hard, so he didn’t have a lot of time to spend with us. But I can recall many times when he would take me fishing and how he would cook the fish outside. This was a good time for me, but it happened very seldom because there were five of us. When each one of his children graduated from high school, he would try to take the new graduate on a little trip, just my father and each one of us, so he could some special time with us.
As for my trip, I remember it was in the northern part of the United States, out west a little bit, and there seemed to be a lot of cowboys there. There was a slot machine there, and I pointed it out to Dad. He put some money in the machine and I just pulled the handle for the fun of it. I’d never done that, and I saw the pictures coming up on the machine, and then I walked away. All of a sudden I heard a lot of money crashing into the tray on the machine. I had hit a jackpot! So, you can imagine I had a lot of candy for a while.
As I mentioned, during the week Dad was very busy. But on Sunday my father would have dinner with the family and this was a very special time.
Still from my youth, I remember very well one of the restaurants my father owned. There was a little stand like the kind a street vendor might use where one could get a hot dog and cold drink. This stand was quite near a gas station and sometimes people just wanted a little something instead of going and sitting in the restaurant. In the summer time I would love to go out there and run the stand, and of course my Dad always gave his children an incentive to run the stand by adding a little money to our pocket book. I remember vividly lining up all the cold drinks that we had to sell, and I would know them by heart. When somebody would ask what we had to drink, I would say the names real fast and so quickly, they really didn’t know what to say about what they wanted. I can remember the names of those drinks even today many years later: orange, lime, lemon, rootbeer, birchbeer, gingerale, sasparilla, coca-cola, cherry, moxi and grape. They probably don’t even have some of those drinks today.
My best friend since I was in the first grade was Anne Sprague. Her Father owned the local funeral home. Her aunt, who had never married but lived with Anne’s mother and father, would always make our dresses. Anne had blue eyes and she always had a blue dress; my dress was pink. When I took music and dancing lessons, Anne took cello lessons. We went all the way through school together. In fact, Anne and I decided that we would try to graduate from our 4-year high school in three years. In New York State, one can finish high school in three years if you pass a special test. These were state-prepared exams that were made in the capital and forwarded to the school so that even the teachers didn’t know what was on the exam until they opened the envelope the day the exam was to be given. In order to do four years in three, we had to pass everything with ten marks higher that a standard passing grade. So fortunately we passed the exam on the first try. I think now I’m sorry we did that because we didn’t get to graduate with our own class.
Anne and I had talked about going to Middlebury College in Vermont together. Anne did go to Middlebury, but at the last minute I decided to attend the famous Alviene School for dancing, drama, etiquette, and all sorts of different things in that category. Danny Kaye, the famous American actor, singer, and dancer had gone there. When I finished that school, I was offered a job by the John Powers modeling agency. It is still a top modeling agency in New York. I was quite short compared to the models, so I ended up modeling for advertisements for things like hair shampoos, lipsticks, gloves and other things where my height didn’t matter. I did that for over a year, and I came to believe this work was not going to get me very far. So, I decided that modeling wasn’t going to be my future, and wanted to get into some kind of business work. I attended Catherine Gibbs School in New York City which is one of the most well-known secretarial schools. At that time when I went there, you had to wear gloves and a hat to school everyday.
When the Duchess of Windsor came to the States with her husband, she wanted to select a personal secretary. I remember they took from each section at the school one person to audition before the Duchess. Each of the nominees had to have a certain grade, and I happened, fortunately, to be one of those nominated. Of the other two nominees, one was very beautiful and intelligent, and the other was, well, very intelligent. I was sure that my friend, the beautiful girl, would be selected but after the interview, we found out she was not.
After graduating from Catherine Gibbs, I got a job at 72 Wall Street in a brokerage firm. I worked there for almost 2 years helping them with stocks and bonds. Later I worked for over two years in Washington, D.C. with the Citizens National Committee for Mr. Kenneth Pray.
While I was in New York, tragedy struck our family. My younger brother was killed in the war. Immediately after my parents sold their business in New York, retired and moved to Florida. I went to visit them and enroute, stopped to visit my older sister in Gainesville who was married to an Army officer that was stationed there. During my visit and while having dinner at her house, there was an officer there who happened to mention that his secretary responsible for taking the minutes during the interviews with officer candidates became ill and they were without anyone to replace her. My sister, who tended to offer everybody else’s services, told him what I did, and that I could certainly help them. When he asked me after what my sister said, I had to accept. On the board of the officers that selected the soldiers to go to Officers Candidate School was one of the younger officers by the name of Carroll Hodges. He was a person that I brought the reports after I typed them.
Carroll Hodges invited me for a cup of coffee. And the next time it was a movie, and then it was going out to dinner, then to a dance. In the meantime, I had to keep calling my boss in Washington to explain to him why I was delayed in coming back. I told him the reason was my parents weren’t feeling well, and I’d like to extend my time in Florida. Of course the real reason was this handsome young officer, Carroll Hodges.
I was in Gainesville in this job probably about 3 weeks altogether. By that time I became quite friendly with Carroll. When I left, he had my address and I had his, and we knew a little bit about each other. Before returning to Washington and my job, I agreed to see Carroll again. This was very possible because he might need to go to Washington where I was living.
I and another couple went to New York to spend the weekend, and to meet Carroll there for a dinner. Carroll and this other couple had been friends for years. After dinner Carroll and I took a walk by ourselves. That is when he asked me to marry him. I had been thinking about him quite a while since we met. I thought he was the perfect person for me to spend the rest of my life with. I accepted his proposal.
A few months later Carroll had to come to Washington on business and I asked him to come to my office to meet Mr. Pray, my boss. I told Mr. Pray that Carroll and I were engaged. I wanted to give Mr. Pray some notice that I would be leaving the job so Mr. Pray could find a new secretary.
About an hour or so later Carroll came, and Mr. Pray and Carroll exchanged greetings and Carroll told him that we would be getting married as soon as I was ready to do everything necessary for the wedding. And after a few seconds of silence, Mr. Pray asked, “How much would that be?” Carroll looked at Mr. Pray and me. I guess Carroll thought Mr. Pray meant, “how much for the wedding?” So Carroll asked, “How much for what?” Mr. Pray said, “to let her stay here.”
On May 21, 1944, two years after I met Carroll, we were married in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Rose Chapel of the Methodist Church by a minister that had known Carroll’s father.
Shortly after the wedding, my husband was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas. While I was there, I did secretarial work in an office that managed the prisoners of war detained there concerning the things the prisoners were allowed to have and the conditions under which they could work.
Two years later in 1944, my husband was assigned to Frankfurt, Germany. After Carroll left for Germany, I decided that I wanted to be near where he was. At the time, the wives of soldiers could not be with their husbands in Germany because the war was just over. So, I went to Washington and took a test for a secretarial position overseas with the US Forces. After I passed the test, I was assigned to Germany and shortly after arriving there I was assigned to Frankfurt, where my husband was stationed.
My husband was living with 11 or 12 other officers in this huge house right in the middle of Frankfurt. I was required to live in an apartment with another female secretary.
I went over to my husband’s home for dinner one night, and I looked and there was a huge table with 12 plates. I knew exactly where I would be sitting because there was a rose by one of the plates. After much conversation and meeting everybody and talking about it, the other officers found out that I was staying with, and assigned to quarters with, another female employee. The head officer in the house where I had dinner said that there was one room downstairs with a private bath, and everybody voted to give that to Carroll so that I could come there and stay. The next day I moved my clothes and everything into the house, but I always had to keep my things – like my clothes – hidden because they used to check the male quarters to make sure there weren’t any German girls living there also.
After about 7 months of working there I found I was pregnant and I had to quit my job because Frankfurt was still a closed city and no dependents were allowed. There was the possibility I would be returned to the United States.
At that time my husband’s immediate supervisor decided that there was a position near Munich that he could take, and I would be allowed to accompany my husband as a dependent because the area was not bombed out like Frankfurt was.
There were many reasons I was happy to move from Frankfurt in addition to being able to stay with my husband. In Frankfurt, things were bad for the people. The war had not been over very long. It had really bothered me to see children in Frankfurt running after coal trucks to pick up a piece of coal, or standing outside the mess halls where the soldiers ate hoping that somebody would bring out a little food for them. Many could not resist giving them food. I know I couldn’t. I used to give them what I could. I remember there was always peanut butter and a lot of bread on the table in the mess halls where you sat to eat. I used to spread some peanut butter on the bread and take it outside to give it to a child.
Pretty soon it came to the point where there were too many children waiting outside. It made you very, very uncomfortable to see things like that. I also remember seeing grown men standing in line behind American soldiers that were waiting to get into the theater to see a movie. When the soldiers discarded their cigarette butts before going inside, these men would fight for the cigarette butts. Everybody was hungry. The mail man would want to deliver the mail right to your door because he was probably hoping that he could have a cup of coffee and a piece of bread or something to eat. It was a very, very difficult thing for me and others to see.
We were transferred to a small town south of Munich called Stanberg am See. There were other American wives there so I could relax and enjoy the atmosphere better. The town had not been affected by the war that much.
After my baby was born I had a lot of time on my hands because it was very easy to get a maid or a house man and have them work 24 hours a day for you if you could feed them. Food was what was most important.
I discovered there was a hospital nearby with a number of patients that couldn’t really go outside because they didn’t have the clothing. Many had been put out of their homes, or their homes were lost in the war. They had only one meal a day.
So I decided that I would meet some German women that could speak some English. Then some other officers’ wives and I formed a little club with the German wives to help us to interpret for the men in the hospital.
All the food for the American forces was rationed as well as cigarettes, soap, and lots of other things. Once a month there would be a little commissary that would open where we could buy limited amounts of what we needed. Food outside the commissary was unavailable.
The officers’ wives decided that we would just go ahead and once a month invite a few men for a good lunch and a few cigarettes, which were a big, rationed item and in high demand. The wives used to take turns using our rations to have the lunch. We had to go to the hospital to bring them to the lunch since they had no other way to get there. Because they had no clothes, many had to wear their pajamas. To help these men out, I decided to find some organizations in the United States that might have old clothing they could donate.
After contacting several organizations in the United States, we started getting boxes of clothing and packaged boxes of food like cereal, cookies and things like that. It was getting close to Christmas and we had been saving packages we had received from the States. We kept asking many of our families and friends in the States to send packages with food or clothing for Christmas.
Out in the countryside there were several places that were really very desperate for everything. My husband bought me a surplus army jeep in France when we visited there for a few days. Because I had the jeep, I was elected to be the one to go out in the country. As I didn’t know the exact way to go, a German lady agreed to go with me to give me directions.
It was such a wonderful experience to see how the children reacted when they saw some cookies, candies, articles of clothing, or something they could eat or keep them warm. It really made my Christmas. And I think the other people that were delivering in other areas, like Munich, felt the same way.
One morning there was an article in the newspaper titled “Angel in Jeep.” The article was about my travels delivering things to the German people. I later found out the lady who wrote the article had accompanied me while delivering the items. I had not realized she was a reporter.
After my second son was born and we were getting ready to return to the United States, I went around to say good-bye to German people that I had met and become friendly with.
When we went to the station to take the train, there were people that had come from the hospital. That really was very touching. For example, there was one man who was blind that was carrying another man on his shoulders that had no legs that came to say good-bye. Then there was a man that had no arms that had painted a picture with his toes to give to me. It was very difficult to say good-bye to everybody because they were so appreciative. I think my having been able to help these men, women, and children helped me more than I helped them.
When we returned to the States, my husband was assigned to the Pentagon, and we bought a house in Arlington, Virginia, which was very close to where he would be going to work. We were lucky to have been able to bring our German housekeeper – and her daughter – to take care of my two sons. The housekeeper was a war widow.
I had time on my hands so I wondered what to do. I decided that I would try to get my real estate license to sell real estate because then you had no set working hours. After getting my license I worked for a builder in Arlington showing and selling their houses.
While looking at the houses with other salesmen that were working in the same company as I was in, I made a remark to one of them about 5 very nice building lots that were shown saying, “Oh, boy, I wish I could afford to buy those. I would love to build houses on them and I bet they would sell fast!” I believed that women are good house builders because it is really the woman who decides what house to buy. She’s the one that lives in the house all day long.
Then a few days later I received a phone call from a Mrs. Pinto inviting me to a lunch. I went to lunch and then I realized her husband worked for the same company that I did. She said that her husband had told her the remark I made about the building lots, and asked how fast the houses could be sold there. She asked whether I would really be interested in building and selling the houses. I told her I would, but I could not afford to buy the lots. Mrs. Pinto then said she would sign the papers for the loan and be responsible for everything. She offered the basement in her home as an office and for me to have her husband as a partner. I told her I would have to discuss it with my husband.
After a lot of talking and persuasion, my husband agreed to the plan. Mr. Pinto and I got together, made our arrangements, and after all the paper work was done, we started our company which we decided to call “Cosmopolitan Builders.” I contacted an architect to go over the plans for the houses.
Mr. Pinto decided that he would take care of the local carpenters that we personally would hire to do certain kinds of work, and I would be responsible for finding subcontractors for the walls, the windows and everything else. After we had decided on the plans that we wanted to use, we started. We bought 5 lots that were in a circle. It took us quite some time to actually do the plans for each house, because each house was to be different.
Each house sold quickly. Often we had a contract signed before we had even painted the outside. All the inside work had been done, and the plans and everything. But before we completely finished the houses we had sold them. This was a lot of work: finding good workers, checking all the builders, getting the contractors, and getting things done on time.
Mr. Pinto and I were very successful. We looked around for more land, and we finally found 3 lots on a lake. There we did the same thing – built the houses and quickly sold them.
The reason, I think, why the houses sold so quickly, was because I insisted that we have large, good-looking and very efficient kitchens. In the bathrooms, there were two sinks and a vanity table for the wife. I really felt that these were big assets. While these features are commonplace today, they were very special for their time in the early 1950s.
After we sold those 5 houses we decided we would celebrate by taking a trip to the Bahamas. There we met a Frenchman who was planning to sail to the States. He asked us if we wanted to sail with him and we agreed. We started out one afternoon, and by that night, around 10 or 11 o’clock, there was a hurricane. It was such a big one that the large boats out of Miami didn’t even go out. We had no warning of the hurricane. We spent that night plus 4 days on the water before we arrived – or perhaps I should say, shipwrecked – on land.
The time aboard the boat was something unbelievable. We had to take the sails off the ship and bail the boat with buckets. The boat had four bunks, a kitchen, and a storage area. The kitchen was wiped out. We spent all our time bailing the boat. It was so bad that the boat was almost always full of water, but the men were constantly bailing the water out so that we could at least keep afloat.
They said later on that it was the keel, being so deep and long, that really saved our boat from going over. As we were getting more daylight, we could see somebody sitting on some rocks near the shore. As we were going closer, this man yelled out, “You are headed for the rocks!” Immediately the two men maneuvered the boat and went a different direction.
Finally we found a place to land. If you could have seen the ship – everything was all over the place. Of course we hadn’t eaten anything in all that time. When we went to stand up, Mrs. Pinto and I, we couldn’t. We couldn’t even walk off the boat without assistance.
When we landed, many people came down to help us and to give us something to eat. We were also very sunburned.
While we were at sea during the storm, the newspapers declared us lost. They had given up trying to find us. And my husband was, along with I’m sure, family and friends of the other passengers checking everyday about what had happened. But nobody could go out and check because of the weather. My husband later told my sons that he had actually rehearsed what he was going to tell them because he thought there was a good possibility I was lost at sea. So we finally had our celebration when we returned home.
In 1957, my husband received military orders for Japan. After we arrived there we were given quarters in a very nice area called Sejo-Machi. This was an area where famous Japanese movie stars lived. Later we were moved to a military installation there. The last place we lived, Washington Heights, became Olympic Village for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
While we lived in Japan, I did Red Cross work in the military hospital and when I could, played golf. My greatest pastime was playing bridge.
One year they had a team-of-4 bridge tournament which I have to tell you about. It was the famous Prince Takamatsu Cup. There were players from other countries: China, Taiwan, Korea and just around the world. I played with a Japanese man by the name of Seiji Kimora. This tournament went on all day long for about 3 days. It finally came down to two tables: a Chinese team and the team I was playing with.
Most people thought the Chinese team would win. One of the men from the Chinese team – they called him John for some reason, probably because he spoke English – came to me and said, ” Miss America, what are you going to do with a second prize?” I was sort of stunned, and then I just looked at him and said, “I’ll let you know.” The team I was on won mainly because my partner played the final hand perfectly.
Probably it was not nice but I went over to John and told him, “You know what I am going to do with a second prize? I’m going to give it to you.” He didn’t smile. Believe me. I was playing bridge and enjoying my life.
My husband kept himself quite busy with his work in the military. My husband was appointed American Special Advisor to the Japanese Olympic Planning Committee. Also he helped organize a military American-style football championship game in Tokyo that was attended by US and Japanese celebrities to include Princess Chichibu, the sister-in-law to the Emperor of Japan.
Because my older son went to an international school in Tokyo, he took Judo along with his other activities, while my younger son enjoyed playing tennis.
After returning from Japan, I became a full-time wife and mother of two busy boys in addition to trying to adjust living back in the States. Trying to remember what we had put into storage and what to do with it can be very challenging. I did find the time to do volunteer work with the Red Cross and with my church.
In 1964, my husband was assigned to KMAG, the Korean Military Advisory Group. We lived on Yongsan quite near the military hospital and what was known at that time as “Gate 19.” After becoming settled and adjusted to my new life, I started to work with the Red Cross again, and took a course in dental work because they were short dental assistants. Because I lived so close to the hospital – which was probably a 5 minute walk at most – they would always call when they were short workers. I also worked with the blood program, and this sometimes meant going to the DMZ where the troops were.
And then in 1965, I had heard about this gift shop in Okinawa that was raising money to give to local charities. I talked to the KMAG Commanding General’s Wife, Mrs. Elaine Skeldon, about starting our own gift shop in Korea. We then talked to the Officers’ Wives Club, and the president at that time was Mrs. James Zimmerman. We did not get a favorable response.
So Mrs. Skeldon worked with a woman whose husband was somehow connected to the American Embassy Advisory Group. I suggested that one of us should go over to Okinawa and find out about the gift shop there. They asked me to do it. We each put in a hundred dollars to pay the expenses for whoever would go to Okinawa.
When I saw the shop in Okinawa, I was amazed at what they had and how beautiful it was. People gave me a list of where they had bought the items.
We arranged for the shop in Okinawa to send us some items on consignment. When I came back to Korea, I contacted some Korean stores to provide us chests, vases, and other Korean arts and crafts. These vendors agreed.
In Okinawa, they had an arrangement with the Air Force that would fly merchandise in from various countries throughout Asia. We made similar arrangements. We’d put the merchandise in storage until we were ready to sell them. These people would fly in anytime, in the middle of the night or whenever, and they would call either another lady or me to come to open up so that they could put the merchandise in there. This was really a headache to start with.
But my husband got some leave and took me on the Asia route of the US embassy flight. We stopped all over the Orient – almost – and into India. During this time I made arrangements to get certain articles on consignment using the information that was given to me from the Okinawa shop. For example, when we went to Thailand we bought jewelry and they also gave us quite a bit on consignment. That is the story of how the Chosun gift shop was started. The shop has items from all over Asia, and it is still in operation today. Its profits are used for a variety of worthwhile civic projects.
Both of my sons were busy in school. One son was president of his class, editor of the school paper, as well as a member of the Junior Red Cross and captain of the high school tennis team. My other son studied Korean martial arts. Both sons graduated from high school in Korea.
In 1969 my husband retired from the military and accepted a position in Florida as a business consultant. My older son was then in the Army, and my younger son was still in college.
In 1972, my husband and I returned to Korea where he became Director of the American-Korean Foundation. Shortly after arriving in Korea and settling into off-post housing in Seoul, my husband told me that he heard of a child that was very ill with heart disease and wouldn’t live long without surgery. Her father was a chef at the 8th Army Golf Club.
That afternoon I attended a meeting for mixed-race children held by an American teacher. Later when the meeting was over, the teacher came to me and said, “You were so interested in what I said. What was it that you liked about the speech?” I said, “I’m sorry. I was only thinking about a little girl that needs heart surgery, without which she won’t live, and it can’t be done in Korea.” The speaker came up and said, “When I was in Vietnam, I remember that they sent a girl to some place in the United States for free surgery.” And I said, “Oh, please, where was it? Can you give me the information?” He said, “I have to think a little.” So I said, “Please come back to my house. We will have a cup of coffee, and maybe you can think about it and remember.”
He came back to the house, and we took out a map. He kept saying he thought it was Wisconsin. Finally we decided that it might be the famous Mayo clinic in Minnesota. So I decided to call there and they told me that they did not do free heart surgery. But they heard that the Medical Center did, and they gave me the name of Dr. Kiser.
The next day I called the Medical Center and spoke with an assistant to Dr. Kiser. I was told that they had taken some children. They told me that there was no charge, and if somebody could donate services, that they could do it. I asked them how the children were taken care of after they arrived, and they said they had volunteers. In fact, right then they had a couple of volunteers from Poland and they have somebody that was familiar with Polish and English.
I knew somebody in Korea that either could escort the child or could stay right there in the hospital. They had a few rooms that were used only for that. We would have to first let the doctors know and see the papers showing all the X-rays and EKGs. Well, so now I had my work. I thanked him, and told him he would hear from me very soon.
I then had to go and arrange for the child to have X-rays and EKGs so the doctors would know if she were operable and if they would accept her. I arranged with the cardiologists and the surgeons over at the military hospital for them to do an X-ray and EKG (electrocardiogram) on the girl. They agreed. We had to be there by 7 in the morning before the soldiers came for their appointments.
I went to the hospital and Dr. Thomas Pazzella checked the girl and arranged for me to get the X-ray and the EKG. I sent the records to Minnesota and they contacted me and said they would accept her. I would have to ensure there was an escort and that there would be oxygen on the plane. The girl’s family was overjoyed, as well as I, about their accepting her as a patient. Now my problem was to get the escort and an air plane ticket.
I contacted Mr. Cho, who was with Korean Airlines, about the ticket. When Mr. Cho heard about the situation, he donated the ticket. When I told him that I really needed an escort he said he had somebody that would be traveling to Minnesota and wouldn’t mind assisting us. That’s how I got my first escort for this program; there happened to be somebody going to Minnesota.
When they arrived in Minnesota, they were met by a Korean lady who took the little girl to the hospital and checked her in. She also acted as an interpreter and guardian as long as the little girl was there.
When I told the girl’s parents, they were absolutely so grateful that it’s impossible to describe how many times they bowed and said, “Thank you.” On the day she was to have the surgery, I was told that her father sat down on the floor facing the wall and only had water by his side. He asked to be told when the surgery was over, and when they said she would be all right, it was a couple of days later. I guess he said many silent prayers.
After the news of the child having had successful surgery, I would get up in the morning to get my newspaper and outside the door would be 2 or 3 children with their mothers. This became such a big operation that I actually had to have somebody else to help me in my house to take care of the callers when they came.
I then set up the days I could take the children down to get the X-rays and EKGs. After this became well-known in the papers, it was being mostly done at the military hospital. But a short time later, Dr. Lee Wun Ku, a cardiologist at Severance Hospital at Yonsei University, helped me a lot by taking children for check-ups and X-rays. And also Dr. Cho Bum-Ku, who was a surgeon, would make sure that the children were operable. Without their assistance it would have been quite difficult with the number of children that were coming to my house.
Finally my husband decided to give me space in his office at the American-Korean Foundation so that I could use it for what became known as the heart program. I got volunteers, anybody that could help, and, of course, the volunteers had to be bilingual.
As the number of patients increased, I had to find more hospitals willing to accept the children for open heart surgery. I have a list of over 50 hospitals that I contacted for assistance. My husband belonged to Seoul Rotary Club, and they helped me a lot by donating air line tickets. Together with Korean Air Lines and Asiana, plus other donations, we were able to take care of the expenses for the children to get to the hospitals.
Around late October or early November in 1983 while still in Korea, I received a telephone call, somebody saying to me, “This is the White House.” And I laughed and said, “Yes, this is the green house,” because I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. And finally the person said, “Excuse me, Mrs. Hodges, this is serious, I am with the White House, and I would like to visit you about the heart program you have.” Then I knew it was serious. So I said, “Please come.”
In a short while, two gentlemen came to my house. One was the secretary to Mrs. Reagan. They sat down and they told me that they had heard about the heart program in the United States from a US Senator who knew of a hospital that had accepted some of the children. They were very interested in escorting the children back. I was told that Mrs. Reagan would like to meet me in November at the American Embassy on the 12th. I said, “On the 12th? That’s my birthday, wonderful.” I never thought about it again.
On the 12th I went to the American Embassy with the 2 children going on Air Force One. When Mrs. Reagan walked into the Embassy she said, “Happy birthday!” and presented me with a beautiful bowl that had a drawing of the White House in gold on it. After I inadequately thanked her for the beautiful gift, we sat down and had a cup of coffee together and talked about the trip and the children.
When it was time for us to leave and we were on the plane, the children just seemed happy and very relaxed. During the flight, President and Mrs. Reagan came back several times to see how we were doing and if the children were OK or needed anything. They were so considerate.
Air Force One is a combination of elegance and office. You walk in and you see the Oval Office with all the people working, then further back was the area where we stayed. Everybody was very sociable and nice, and it was a great honor for me.
After we arrived in Alaska for a stop over, the press got out first and then the President’s limousine and the driver. After we got off the plane the press took a lot of pictures of the children and they wanted them to say something. But they didn’t speak any English. So I turned to the 2 children and said, “Please sing, you know, sahntoggui,” which is a song about a rabbit and they wiggle their ears. So the children did that.
In Alaska, they decorated the houses and had all sorts of refreshments as it was close to Thanksgiving. We enjoyed this very much.
We landed in the States at Andrew Air Base where we got onto a helicopter and landed on the White House lawn. There were a lot of people around the lawn on the other side of the fence to welcome President and Mrs. Reagan. The President went to a podium to make a speech, and the children very quietly stood there and made no noise. They were really wonderful. After the speech was finished, we were escorted into the White House where the children were greeted with toys. The President asked several other people that joined us from Gift of Life in New York to have a cup of coffee. I didn’t say anything, and the President turned to me and said, “Mrs. Hodges, what would you like?” and I told him, “I would like your favorite picture.” He laughed and said something to a secretary. Pretty soon the secretary brought me a picture of him in his blue jeans. That was his favorite picture. I waited there with the children until a car picked us up to take us to the airport. After we were settled on the plane, a newspaperman from the Washington Post came over and tried to question the children. He interviewed us all the way to New York. When we arrived in New York, there were Rotarians there and, of course, newspaper reporters everywhere.
The children were exhausted by then, and all they wanted to do was hold on to my hand and keep telling me that they wanted to sleep. Also awaiting us were the people from St. Francis Hospital in New York where the children were going. The Rotarians and other personnel were there and drove us to the hospital. At the hospital we were greeted by a lot of the staffers. I was eager that the children could be taken care of, and that I could also rest a little bit until the next day.
The hospital staffers and many from Gift of Life had a special party for me to celebrate my birthday again. It was a great year for birthdays!
I met many of the doctors including the one I understood in the future probably would be taking care of any children that I might send to that hospital. It was very fortunate to go to this hospital because there was a lot of space right there in the hospital where the children could stay and they would be under 24 hours’ care even before their surgery.
After all this publicity, when I returned to Korea I had many calls and letters from different hospitals offering to assist the children. One of the letters which I was so happy to receive was from Mr. Jones at the Barnett Bank in Jacksonville, Florida. He said that he could manage to bring to Korea some doctors and cardiologists and machines to check the children. In addition, the doctors could stay several days in Korea to select the children that were operable. I was so happy to accept that offer, and several doctors from a university hospital in Jacksonville, Florida came to Korea. The doctors thoroughly checked each child, taking the X-rays and EKGs, leaving copies with us and taking copies with them to determine which children they could accept. I can tell you that this hospital and the doctors took care of, and operated on, over 70 children out of my program. So I’m very grateful to all those who participated because they came over more than once.
If you would like to have the names of the people that significantly participated in this program by coming over to Korea more than once, the names are: Dr. Robert Miller, Dr. Donald Marangi, Dr. William Marvin, Dr. Richard Perriman, Dr. Erik Cethmal, and Dr. Richard Pheroson.
It takes many hands and financial arrangements to make a program like this successful. I have to give special thanks to Dr. Kiser from the Metropolitan Medical Center in Minnesota for the extra care that he showed for a large number of children who were operated on.
All of the children that have had surgery under the program really showed their appreciation and were very thankful to Dr. Imm Chin Woo who has been and still is giving free medical assistance to these children. One Saturday every month Dr. Imm has a clinic at Ulji Hospital, and he checks the children to see how well they are doing. The children can come as often as they wish, and they are taken care of without any obligation to Dr. Imm. This has been going on since my program started.
Besides getting free air line tickets and hospital services, it all sounds quite easy. But there still are a lot of challenges. Consider getting a passport in a short time. How about going to the American Embassy and standing in line so that you can try to get a visa for the child?
There were lots of little things that you don’t see: to find people in the States willing to take the children in their homes; the homes have to be checked; to find somebody who can be an interpreter for all the children and for the doctors in case there were certain questions for the children.
At first we used to let the mothers come with their child. But it became too difficult because the mothers weren’t bilingual, and they would try to get or do things for themselves. They would be overactive with the children if the child told them he had pain, and we were concerned they might do something that would hurt the child instead of help especially when they were alone with their child. So we finally canceled that. The parents could not go except in very special circumstances.
Special thanks to my wonderful husband of over 60 years who always supported my activities in addition to his own responsibilities in the military as well as Director of the American-Korean Foundation and later as an international relations advisor to the Commander, US Forces, Korea. In fact, there is a statue on the grounds of the Hangaran School in Seoul for his service to that institute. As a former professor with a Ph.D. in industrial psychology, he appreciated the honor of 2 honorary doctorates from Korean universities. He passed away in December 2004, and I miss him.
We left Korea October, 1995, and retired in Melbourne, Florida. We visited Korea several times as we missed our dear Korean friends, and to see our Korean grandchildren that had had heart surgery.
It is important in closing that I make clear that the greatest honor I have received is the feeling I got when I looked into the eyes of the children. I am humbled by the honors that have been given to me, but be assured they do not measure up to the honor one gets from being able to serve another. And when the one being helped is a child, the honor is all that much greater.