“Steve Hardwick and Duane Hodgin began a personal quest to assure that students and those who will populate the future will recall with detail and accuracy the great challenge of this world at war and the men and women who were engaged in the vanquishing of a great evil.” (take from the Foreword of WWII Duty, Honor Country)
So they have. This collective account from 84 brave men and women whose interviews have been penned to paper and collected in one book, remind us that the “Greatest Generation” has many lessons from which to learn. In February on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Indian Creek Elementary School, military-clad MPs stood at the entrance to direct traffic while those who stories have been told in this amazing book made their way to the gymnasium for the book’s celebratory launch.
The gym was transformed to resemble a USO hall. A standing-room only crowd gathered to honor these WWII Veterans and perhaps collect their signatures in a copy of the book. Hodgin and Hardwick were quite obvious in their intent of the celebration – it is all for the Veterans. Even though they organized the stories and pieced together the book, It was not them seated ready to pen their name – only the Veterans. “It isn’t about me or Duane,” said Steve Hardwick, who did a wonderful Jack Benny impersonation, “It’s about these incredible men and women that the world owes a sincere debt of gratitude.” The book celebration included musical performances by former students of Steve Hardwick as well as by WWII Veteran Jim McDowell and Joy Conners (LCHS music teacher). An additional honor was bestowed upon the WWII Veterans as Mr. Tom Applegate, former head of Veterans Affairs for Indiana, awarded each Veteran with a Distinguished Hoosier Award. The Distinguished Hoosier Award is one of the highest tributes given out by the State of Indiana to its citizens. It is solely granted at the discretion of the Governor to Hoosiers who have uniquely brought admiration and respect to the state through their character and accomplishments. No one could argue that there is not a more deserving group of recipients.
For Hardwick, this all began for him while studying at Indiana State University in the fall of 1985 when he interviewed Terre Haute resident and Holocaust survivor, Eva Kor, for an assignment. Two years earlier while Hardwick was serving in the military in West Germany, he had visited two concentration camps, which had an impact on him. Mrs. Kor asked Steve to volunteer for the CANDLES (her Holocaust museum in Terre Haute, www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org) inquest into the death of Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed inhumane experiments on prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp (Mrs. Kor and her twin sister were part of his “experiments”). After the inquest, Mrs. Kor asked the volunteers how they would use what they learned. Hardwick announced to the group that his hopes were to share the stories of the Holocaust survivors when he became a teacher.
Forever inspired by Eva Kor’s miraculous story of survival and forgiveness, and that of WWII Veterans, Hardwick (teacher, Indian Creek Elementary – MSDLT) in his role of teacher, father, and now author, has dedicated much of his time to honoring those who served our country.
Co-Author Duane Hodgin’s involvement in writing this book was personally motivated as well, but for different reasons. On July 13, 1944, while stationed in New Guinea, Everett Hodgin was serving his country during WWII. Back in Richmond, Indiana, his wife, Ellabell, gave birth to their son Duane. Like thousands of American servicemen, Everett was not present at the birth of his son. In May of 2004, Duane Hodgin took his father, Everett, to Steve Hardwick’s WWII Tribute put on by current and former students of Hardwick’s. Upon retiring from Lawrence Township, Duane Hodgin suggested that he and Hardwick interview these Veterans and record their stories. The interviews began in January 2011, with Everett Hodgin being the first to interview.
The list of Veterans, all residents of Indiana, to be included quickly grew to 84. This is the largest collection of personal accounts from WWII to be printed in one book. Other featured Veterans include: Edgar Whitcomb, former Governor of Indiana, who was in a bomber division in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was bombed, (3) Tuskegee Airmen, (4) men to serve in Okinawa, (2) who were at Pearl Harbor, (6) who fought in The Battle of the Bulge, (6) who stormed the beaches at Normandy, many former POWs, (7) women volunteers, (1) Holocaust survivor (Mrs. Kor) and many, many more. Navy Veteran Ed Moss (USS Neosho) said, “In the war, I learned to serve my country for a purpose greater than myself.”
A few of the Veterans featured in the book are no longer with us. When Everett Hodgin was interviewed, he was the oldest at 94. At 95, he was the first of eight who have died since work began on this book. In 15 years, nearly all WWII veterans will have left us. The youngest is about 86 years old right now. As this generation continues to diminish, but Hardwick and Hodgin have provided them ‘a place in the hall of time. As the last warriors are called home, Hardwick and Hodgin answer the war’s call to remember and honor.’ As Army Veteran (Normandy) Gene Cogan said, “In combat, every day is a life time.”
WWII: Duty, Honor, Country is available on Amazon.com and also online at Barnes & Noble and available as an eBook. The Carmel Barnes & Noble will host a book signing April 13th from 2-3pm for the authors and several veterans will be available to autograph books. For more information: www.ww2dutyhonorcountry.com
The related article “A Love Letter to WWII” originally appeared in Broad Ripple Community Newsletter May 2014.