JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — After spending most of his life near the water, Julian Hodges followed in his older brother’s footsteps and joined the Navy in 1941.
Hodges was assigned to the USS Yorktown where he worked as a fireman in the boiler room.
“It was just the natural thing to do,” said Hodges.
During his time on the USS Yorktown, Hodges saw the ship take damage during the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942 and was injured when the ship was attacked and eventually sunk during the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
During the Battle of Midway, the USS Yorktown was struck by both bombs and torpedoes.
Hodges was working in the ship’s boiler room when one of the torpedoes hit, which knocked him forward and forced his arm in between two steam pipes. Hodges had to have help from two men to pull his arm free which severely dislocated his shoulder.
Just a few moments after Hodges was able to free his arm, the men aboard the USS Yorktown were given orders to abandon ship.
“I still got a shoulder out of place, I’ve got to get off the ship, I’ve got to get into the water somehow and then I’ve got to swim somehow,” recalled Hodges.
Hodges was able to secure his arm with a life jacket before escaping from the sinking ship.
After eventually making it back to the U.S. and spending some time recovering from his injuries, Hodges was assigned to the USS West Virginia.
“They assigned me to the USS West Virginia,” said Hodges. “The only problem with the USS West Virginia was it was sunk on Dec. 7, and it was still on the bottom, so I still didn’t have a ship.”
Hodges said the West Virginia, which was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, was raised shortly after his assignment and he and his shipmates got to work repairing it. However, once it was repaired, Hodges was taken off of active duty because of his shoulder injury. After doing several different jobs for the Navy, Hodges was given his discharge in 1945.
Hodges, who celebrated his 99th birthday on Saturday, has shared the story of his service many times, including with his neighbor, David Denny, who built a replica model of the USS Yorktown and included a special tribute to him on it.
Denny, who had been interested in the Battle of Midway since reading a book about it in the late 1960s, first met Hodges during a visit Hodges made to Johnson City several years ago.
“When (Hodges’ son) told me his dad had been injured in the battle of Midway I came out of the chair and wanted to latch on to him and hear what he had to say,” said Denny.
Denny, after talking with Hodges, decided to build the model of the USS Yorktown. Denny had Hodges sign the base of the model during one of his visits in 2008 and Denny began putting the model together in 2016.
“After I retired I started to work on these things a little more seriously, and my wife gave me the kit back almost 40 years ago in the late 1980s and I started working on it in 2016,” said Denny. “I worked on it for five and a half years.”
Denny’s model is complete with a list of the names of those who died aboard the USS Yorktown, Hodges’ signature and a tiny figurine standing aboard the ship meant to represent Hodges.
Hodges, who is originally from Florida, came to live in Johnson City with his son and daughter-in-law around four years ago, which is when he and Denny became neighbors. And Hodges said the pair have been good friends ever since the move.
“David lived across the street and he had some interest in the Midway battle, and we got to talking and he built this copy of the Yorktown and we’ve been friends ever since,” said Hodges.