While serving with the American Red Cross during World War II, Andrew Gerow Hodges of Birmingham made 15 solo crossings into German-held territory in northwest France, singlehandedly negotiating the release of 149 Allied prisoners of war in a POW exchange. It was the only such instance in the entire war.
Years later, Hobart Grooms of Birmingham discovered the amazing story while serving on the Samford University board of trustees with Hodges. After going through Hodges’ cache of documents and photos, he began putting together an award-winning documentary film about the episode entitled “For One English Officer.” This led to the publication last year of a popular French military history of the story, Les Incroyable Echanges, by Luc Braeuer.
Three of Hodges’ granddaughters—Jane-Latham, Eleanor and Elizabeth Hodges—recently retraced his footsteps through the Lorient and Saint-Nazaire sections of France under the guidance of author Braeuer. They were received by local officials and met several witnesses to the exchanges. Several area newspapers covered the visits and recounted the historic events.
Earlier this month at Samford’s Rotunda Club, Hodges family members and others gathered for a luncheon paying tribute to Hodges, a 1942 Samford graduate who died in 2005, and the Red Cross. At the author’s request, Grooms presented copies of the book to Linda Baker, chief strategy officer for the Red Cross Mid-Alabama Region; Jeff Stone, Red Cross board member; Hodges’ widow, Mary Louise (see photo); and Samford president Andrew Westmoreland. Copies of the book were forwarded to the Red Cross national headquarters and The International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The prisoners never knew who was responsible for their freedom,” Grooms said. The film documentary made many aware of the full story, he added, and “now, thanks to Luc’s splendidly-researched book, the story lives on.”