Posted by William Nunnelley on 2004-01-09
"For One English Officer," the story of Samford University Trustee Gerow Hodges' successful efforts to free 149 Allied prisoners of war during World War II, will be shown on Alabama Public Television (APT) in January.
The documentary will be telecast statewide Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 9:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m.
One of the POWs freed, British captain Michael R. D. Foot, lay near death suffering from injuries sustained in an escape attempt. Surviving the war because of Hodges' negotiating skills, Foot went on to become an eminent World War II historian, writing 10 books on the European conflict. He also co-edited The Oxford Companion to the Second World War.
Hodges, now in his 80s and a longtime resident of Vestavia Hills, was declared unfit for military service during the war because of a serious shoulder injury sustained while playing football for Samford (then Howard College). Determined to serve in some capacity, Hodges joined the American Red Cross and eventually became Senior Field Director attached to the 94th Infantry in northwest France.
Five months after the D-Day landings in June of 1944, the U.S. Army was advancing east across France and Belgium toward Germany. It had bypassed a force of 65,000 German troops in the Lorient region of France, cutting these troops off from the main German army.
But these German troops held a number of Allies captive. Supplies were dwindling for the Germans and were even more scant for their captives. When Major General Henry Maloney of the 94th Infantry discovered the prisoners' plight, he turned the problem over to Hodges.
"This is your job, not ours," Maloney told the Red Cross representative. "Handle it."
Hodges thus began making a series of trips under the Red Cross flag into enemy territory to get food and medicine to the Allied POWs. After 15 such tension-filled trips, he proposed a swap of Allied prisoners for a like number of German POWs. With the approval of the Allied and German authorities and the Red Cross, the swaps were made Nov. 16 and Nov. 29, 1944.
These were the only such POW swaps recorded during the European war. For his efforts in arranging the exchanges, Hodges was awarded the Bronze Star.
The documentary takes its title from an episode involving Captain Foot, who had attempted to escape several times. Foot had suffered a broken neck and other injuries in his most recent escape attempt. The Germans at first refused to include him in the swap, claiming he "knew too much" and "was too badly injured." But Hodges had Foot's name on the list of POWs to be exchanged. He insisted that Foot be included, or the swap would be called off.
"You would sacrifice the freedom of all prisoners for one English officer?" asked a dumbfounded German colonel.
"Yes," replied Hodges, "for one English officer or one French private. It is all or none."
The German demanded five German majors for Foot.
"Are you saying that one seriously-injured, jaundiced British captain is worth five German majors?" Hodges asked.
"Nein, nein," shouted the enraged colonel, banging a table with his fist. "Let him have his British captain!"
Foot was released with the others. After the war and a long period of recovery, Foot returned to the university life he had left when the war began. He taught at Oxford and Manchester universities, establishing his academic reputation as editor of the papers of 19th century British Prime Minister William Gladstone.
Hodges, originally from Geneva, Ala., returned to Birmingham and a successful career with Liberty National Life Insurance Co., now Torchmark. He is a Life Trustee of Samford and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
"For One English Officer" was directed by independent film maker T. N. Mohan. Hobart Grooms and Angela Burchett were co-producers.