JOHNSON CITY — Retired pastor Julian E. Hodges, a member of Boones Creek Baptist Church, Johnson City, is in rare company.
Not only did he turn 100 years old on Feb. 5, Hodges is one of a very small minority of Navy veterans who survived the Battle of Midway during World War II when the U.S.S. Yorktown was struck by enemy torpedoes and later sank.
Hodges was one of two veterans who was able to attend the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway on the island of Midway last year. The battle in the Pacific has been described by some historians as the turning point of World War II.
“We were the honored guests of the celebration,” he noted. “I felt like I was somebody,” he joked, noting that the admiral of the Pacific Fleet saluted him.
The former Florida pastor, who moved to Tennessee a few years ago to be near one of his sons, still has vivid memories from that day.
He worked in the boiler room of the Yorktown which was 21 feet below the water line, he recalled. “We knew we were in a battle but we could only hear some of the bombing though we did feel some of the vibrations,” he recalled.
When two torpedoes struck the ship, Hodges fell forward and his left arm was wedged between two pipes. With the help of two shipmates, Hodges was able to pull free, tearing flesh off his arm and his shoulder out of place.
Using only one arm, Hodges was escaping down the side of the ship when a sailor from above lost his grip and crashed into Hodges causing him to fall against the armor plate of the U.S.S. Yorktown, injuring his knee. He has since worn a metal brace on that knee for 80 years because of that injury.
Hodges was picked up by a float filled with other sailors and they made it to the U.S.S. Hammann where he received some medical attention.
It took 13 days, however, before he was finally taken to a hospital and though he had shoulder surgery, it would continually come out of place.
“I have lived with it for 80 years,” he said, adding that he strengthened it through therapy. He would have at least five surgeries through the years due to injuries he received.
Hodges is grateful for his military service. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience I had but I wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars,” he laughed.
He does have one disappointment from his military days. When he joined the Navy, sailors could not be awarded a Purple Heart given to men injured in the line of duty.
During the war, however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed that and expanded it to include all branches of service.
Though Hodges was told by a doctor he qualified for the Purple Heart, he never received it and efforts in later years have yet to result in Hodges receiving the award he earned through his service. Yet, he still “loves the military.”
Hodges, who was a Christian when he enlisted, acknowledged he went through some “tough times” while serving his country. “I learned there was a way out. If you trust the Lord and have the right attitude, it will make things easier for you,” he said.
“God has been very good to me,” he continued.
After his military service was over, Hodges returned to Florida and enrolled at Florida Baptist Theological College in Graceville, Fla. He would go on to minister for 62 years as a pastor.
He “retired” in 1991, after 40 years in the pastorate. But he would serve another 18 churches as interim pastor, leaving his last interim at the age of 94.
He also served his local association near Panama City as interim director of missions twice and has been a chaplain.“I have depended on God my entire life,” he declared.
Hodges estimated he has seen hundreds of people saved and baptized during his ministry. “Leading people to Christ has been a passion,” he maintained “The Lord has blessed me.”
Since moving to Johnson City to live with his son (a doctor) and daughter-in-law (a nurse), he has found a church family at Boones Creek and has been as active as possible, teaching Sunday School on occasion and filling in once for pastor Jason Royston.
“He has been a mentor to me,” Royston affirmed. He noted that Hodges is well loved by the members of Boones Creek even though he has been a member for only a few years.
The church honored Hodges on his 100th birthday with a special afternoon celebration.
“We are honoring him not only for his love for his country and for his military service, but also for the fact that he has been in ministry for 62 years,” Royston said. “We declared the day in his honor.”
Though he no longer preaches, Hodges maintains he will never stop serving the Lord.
“If He gives me the strength, I will keep serving Him until they lay me in the grave. I love the Lord.” B&R