MEMORIAL DAY: Longview veterans lay flags on graves of fallen soldiers

Residents from Buckner Westminster Place in Longview laid flags on the graves of fallen soldiers at Lakeview Memorial Gardens Friday. Many of the residents are veterans so this event has significant meaning to them. Alonzo “H” Hodgson, a resident of Westminster Place and World War II veteran, recently moved to Longview and will participate to show his respect alongside other veterans.

“It is important for us to remember this day and pay tribute to those who served our country and gave their lives defending it,” Hodgson said. “It is a sad day, and it will certainly be a hard time for us all, but we are thankful to be here. They gave their lives for our country, so this is the least we can do to honor them.”

Hodgson was a 17 years old when he enlisted in the Navy on July 9, 1943. He served as a naval foot soldier in a Naval Beach Battalion Company until late March 1946. Their job entailed moving troops and supplies across the ocean, whether that was picking up the soldiers or dropping them off. Hodgson was responsible for communicating with the beach master and the ships via signals and radio communications for the unloading of troops and supplies.

Hodgson admits they had close encounters with being discovered or hit by the enemy, but that they made it out safe every time. While on the water, they would get word that fellow U.S. ships had been blown up or hit leaving several injured. However, there was nothing they could do in those times except wait it out and try to avoid being hit. A single blow could take out 20 men easily.

“I was grateful when we didn’t get attacked out on the ocean during the war,” he said. “I was grateful when I got to come home and was able to pick up my life. I am grateful now as I reflect on everything that has happened.”

Hodgson said the ocean was much bigger than anticipated. At one point, he spent 58 days at sea without seeing land.

“We traveled all over the ocean delivering troops and supplies to Guam, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and more,” he said. “I was present for the great Battle of Iwo Jima. Our troops were trying to and eventually succeeded in taking this Japanese island.” 

The five-week battle comprised some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting of the war in the Pacific of World War II. Hodgson and his fellow soldiers arrived to bring troops and supplies, and on the second day, their ship was blown up so they spent seven days on the island. About 6,000 American lives were lost while they captured the island.

Next, they assisted during the Battle of Okinawa. It took them 12 days to unload troops and supplies. Hodgson said there was a 200-foot cloud cover so they were never seen. But in the meantime, 40 ships were attacked.

“Our nerves were pulsating the entire time. We had new troops on board who would contribute to the battle, and we were trying to protect them.”

Hodgson said the aftermath of the war left everyone feeling subdued and melancholy, either because of the lives lost or the destruction that was left behind. He visited one town that had been destroyed by an aerial raid. There was nothing left but debris and a shanty row of scant buildings.

These memories spur his call to action this Memorial Day weekend and prompted him to pay tribute to those whose lives were lost serving the very war he was a part of, and other wars that ensured the freedom he has today.

“It is riveting and devastating when we hear the tales of the veterans living at Buckner Westminster Place,” said Wes Wells, executive director of Buckner Westminster Place. “Planning an event like this is meaningful for those who served and helps those dealing with grief find a way to express themselves. We are thankful for our troops, those who are serving our country and those who have served. It’s important for us to start our Memorial Day weekend with an event that matters, an event that acknowledges and an event that signifies honor for all those who sign up to protect.”

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