LUMBERTON — Mike Hall is on a mission to find the descedents of a deceased veteran.
Why? Because he has his letters.
Hall, owner of Mike Hall Auto Sales in Lumberton, got his hands on about 70 letters, all signed by Claude Leon Hodges, a U.S. Navy seaman who wrote frequently to his wife, Clessie, and daughter, Mozelle, during the World War years of 1944 and 1945.
Hall has been hoping that the letters will find a home with one of Hodges’ closest living relatives.
“I know that if these belonged to my dad or my granddad, I would want to have them,” Hall said.
An avid collector of old tools, Hall came upon the letters after participating in one of his guilty pleasures — auctions. He got them at Cannon Auction House in Clarkton, a bidding house he frequents.
“I go every Saturday,” Hall said.
At the auction house, he did a blind bid on a box, not knowing what it contained. For just $2, Hall dug up the history of Claude Hodges, and his letters to his wife and daughter.
“The guy was from Winston-Salem, and I don’t know how in the world they (the letters) wound up in Clarkton,” Hall said. “I’ve never found anything like this before.”
Hodges was born Sept. 11, 1911, in Winston-Salem, according to records found on ancestry.com. According to his registration card, he was drafted during World War II and joined the Navy in 1940 at the age of 29.
Hodges died on May 16, 1955. His death certificate says the cause of death was a heart attack. He was only 44. Hodges’ wife, Clessie, died in in 2001 and his daughter, Mozelle, died in 2015. Her obituary indicates she had several grandchildren.
By looking at the date stamps of each letter, Hall determined that Hodges wrote weekly to Clessie and Mozelle.
The letters are in good shape, although yellowed with age. They were all opened and all from Claude Hodges. Some are written with ink, but most in pencil. They remain quite legible despite possibly being stored away for several decades. A good portion of of the letters are sent from Great Lakes, Illinois, which is where Hall believes Hodges was stationed, at the Great Lakes Naval Base.
The base is located in the northeastern corner of Illinois, about 40 miles from Chicago. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, the base opened in 1911 as a training facility for the U.S. Navy.
“I believe this is where he trained,” Hall said.
Others letters place Hodges on the S.S. Atlanta City. According to isthmianlines.com, a site created by historian and U.S. marine and isthmian researcher Skip Lewis, the S.S. Atlanta was in service from 1921 to 1950, which contains the period dated in Hodges’ letters.
Other letters place Hodges in New York City; Brooklyn.; Norfolk, Virginia, and Gulfport, Mississippi.
Hall believes that if read thoroughly, the letters will parallel significant periods in the United States.
“I’m sure some of these are significant dates in history,” Hall said.
All of the envelopes are addressed to Mrs. C.L. Hodges, 114 West 8th St., Winston-Salem, N.C.; but the letters are to Clessie and Mozelle.
Despite having the letters for about six months now, Hall has read only a handful.
“He seemed to really be a good family man,” Hall said. “He always asked about his daughter.”
“‘How is the sweetest daughter in the world?’” Hall read aloud from one of Hodges letters.
“’I miss you and Mozelle more than I can tell you,’” Hall read in another.
Hall read one of the Hodges letters that was written near Christmas.
“This past Christmas I went through the box and found one that was closest to Christmas,” Hall said. “He was actually in England. It’s just amazing to read something someone actually wrote back to their family 75 years ago. It’s pretty cool.”
Some of the letters hint at hard times, but don’t get into much details, Hall said.
“There was one I read where they were not under attack but it was kind of tough,” he said.
Hall believes Hodges was probably more guarded about the specifics of what he went through and chose to focus on his family instead.
“I think that a lot of guys in the Army like that or in the military don’t write about their experiences,” he said. “I’ve heard people say that their father or their grandfather was in the military and they never knew some of the stuff he went through.
“A lot of it is just ‘how you doing’ and ‘please write me’ and stuff. It was a lot of taking-care-of-life, everyday stuff.”
Hall has done some research on the internet, but hasn’t had any hits that might lead him in the right direction — yet. But he’s thinking that outside help will draw him closer to the Hodges’ family.
“I haven’t had any luck,” Hall said. “I don’t have the resources that some people might have.”
The letters remind Hall of a different era. He said the odds of finding letters like these 75 years from now are slim.
“Now you don’t see a lot of this letter writing and stuff,” Hall said. “It’s all emails and that kind of stuff.”
Hall is thankful that he got his hands on the letters. He doesn’t think they would have survived much longer if not.
“I just thought it was a little interesting,” Hall said. “A lot of people would have just thrown these away.”
Mike Hall, a Lumberton business owner, reads over letters he won during a blind auction at Cannon Auction House in Clarkton. The letters were written by Claude Leon Hodges, a veteran in the U.S. Navy who died more than 60 years ago.
Shown is a letter by Claude Leon Hodges dated back to 1944. The letter and about 70 others are now in the home Mike Hall. Hall hopes to return the letters to the Hodges family.