August 11, 2010
French Historian’s Book Chronicles Hodges’ Historic WW II Prisoner Swap
The exploits of the late Andrew Gerow Hodges that resulted in freedom for 149 Allied and German prisoners of war during World War II were chronicled in a 2002 television documentary, “For One English Officer.” Unfit for military service because of an old football injury, Hodges volunteered for service with the American Red Cross and ultimately found himself in a position to arrange the swap.
The Birmingham resident and Samford University graduate was attached to the 94th Infantry serving in northwest France during late 1944, and assigned the task of getting desperately needed supplies and medicine to Allied POWs being held in German prison camps in Brittany. He made 15 trips through the German lines to accomplish this before arranging for the unique swap of Allied and German prisoners during a one-day cease-fire.
One of the prisoners was the eminent British military historian, Michael R. D. Foot, who was near death in the POW camp and was the “one English officer” referred to in the documentary title. Hodges was awarded two Bronze Stars, the highest military award for a civilian, for his efforts.
Now, Hodges’ exploits have been chronicled in a new book, Les Incroyables Echanges, or The Incredible Exchange. The French language book was written by war historian Luc Braeuer and published in France. Birmingham attorney Hobart Grooms, Jr., a Samford trustee and longtime friend of Hodges who worked to produce the documentary, wrote the preface for the book. Braeuer “provided valuable help in locating personnel, photos, documents and in the filming” of the documentary in Saint-Nazaire, France, Grooms notes.
Grooms described Hodges as a “devout, persistent, compassionate and humble person” who only reluctantly shared the story of his wartime activities over a period of years. Finally, Grooms was able to piece together the entire story from Hodges, as well as obtain a movie newsreel of the swap that played in U.S. theaters shortly afterward. After arranging to work on the documentary, Grooms and Samford tracked down nine remaining American POWs from the swap and hosted them in Birmingham Jan. 25, 2002, for a meeting with Hodges, interviews and a dinner.
Hodges, an executive with Liberty National Life Insurance Co. (now Torchmark) and Birmingham civic leader, served as a Samford trustee for many years. He died in 2005. Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel at Samford’s Beeson Divinity School is named in his honor.