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Pearl Harbor hero finally returns, eight decades later

A positive DNA test confirmed Fireman First Class Howard Hodges' identity. His remains returned for internment in his hometown of Washington, N.C.

NORFOLK, Va. — It is a story nearly 80 years in the making. It begins on December 7th, 1941, the day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said "will live infamy."

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was devastating.  2,403 Americans were killed and 1,143 were wounded. Eighteen ships were sunk or run aground.

The Battleship USS West Virginia got hit by seven torpedoes and two bombs, killing 106 men, including 20-year-old Navy Fireman 1st Class Howard D. Hodges of Washington, North Carolina.

"He'd been on board, fighting a fire," said Roy Hankinson, Assistant State Captain, North Carolina Patriot Guard Riders. "He got trapped in a compartment. They found his body, but they couldn't identify it."

Hodges was officially listed as Missing in Action, and his unidentified remains were buried in a cemetery of "unknowns" in Hawaii for all these decades.

Then last year, with the help of modern-day DNA technology, those remains were positively identified.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced Hodges was accounted for on Oct. 15, 2020.

Credit: US Navy
Navy Fireman 1st Class Howard D. Hodges was killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

On Tuesday, Patriot Guard Riders from Virginia and North Carolina gathered to welcome Hodges home. He returned to the East Coast, to Norfolk International Airport, on an American Airlines jet.

The Patriot Guard team, along with law enforcement units from both states, escorted Hodges to his new final resting place in Washington, where he grew up as one of 15 children.

"This is just such an honor to do this for this veteran and to have the family know he's coming home," said Rich Fredley, Senior Ride Captain, Hampton Roads-District Five, Patriot Guard Riders. "It's an honor to give this respect, and final resting ease for the family."

Hodges will be laid to rest this Saturday in his hometown of Washington, North Carolina.

If he were still alive, he'd be 100 years old this year.