World Was Better For It
Thomas Calabrese — Corporal Hodge Evans was awarded the Silver Star for his actions and when his enlistment expired, he returned to Oceanside. He enrolled at Mira Costa Junior College and began taking photography courses. He planned to return to Africa after the rainy season and volunteer his services with a Wildlife Conservation Group. It was early Saturday morning and Hodge had just returned from a five mile run when he saw Mr. Korsak struggling to place a ladder up against his two story home.
“Let me give you a hand with that,” Hodge offered.
Mr. Korsak’s face lit up when he saw Hodge, “Look who it is! Are you still in the Marines?”
“I just got out a couple of weeks ago,” Hodge answered as he leaned the ladder against the house.”
“It’s good to have you home,” Mr. Korsak said.
“What kind of work are you doing?”
“The downspout is stopped up,” Mr. Korsak answered.
Hodge held one end of the hose in one hand, climbed up and placed the nozzle in the gutter, “Turn it on.”
Suddenly Hodge came crashing down to the ground. When he awakened he was in a hospital bed at the Tri- City Medical Center. He looked over and saw Ben sleeping in a chair. Hodge struggled to get one word out of his parched throat, “Sir.”
Ben immediately awakened and rushed to Hodge’s bedside. “You had me worried.”
“How long have I been out?”
“They had you in a medically induced coma to reduce brain swelling for a week. You’ve been off the medication for the last two days,” Ben replied, “So basically nine days.”
“What are my injuries?” Hodge inquired.
“Concussion, several compressed vertebrates, swelling around the spine, dislocated shoulder and knee and numerous contusions and bruises.”
Hodge smiled through the pain, “For a minute I thought it was serious. It’s kind of funny that I survived in the Marine Corps and almost killed myself falling off a ladder.”
“Funny…no….ironic…yes,” Ben corrected his young friend.
Three days later, Mr. Korsak, Ben and another man showed up at the hospital. Mr. Korsak introduced the other man who looked about ten years younger than him, “This is my brother, Ed, he’s a lawyer.”
Hodge replied, “You don’t need an attorney…I’m not going to sue you, accidents happened.”
Ben explained, “You didn’t fall, the ladder was defective, the third rung from the top was improperly welded.”
“I feel a little better now, at least I know I’m not that clumsy.”
Mr. Korsak added, “The manufacturer wants to make you a settlement.”
“What do you think, sir?” Hodge asked.
“You’re going to need some physical therapy and won’t be able to work for a while. I think it’s a good idea to have legal representation,” Ben advised.
“I owe you my life,” Mr. Korsak’s voice cracked with emotion, “If I had gone up that ladder and taken the fall that you did, they would be burying me right now. You have my word that you’ll be treated fairly.”
The manufacturer of the ladder was quick to settle to avoid any bad publicity. They offered two million dollars and full medical and Hodge accepted. Upon his release from the hospital, Hodge immediately started physical therapy at the Tri City Rehabilitation Center. His therapist was Trish Harmon. When she looked at Hodge’s medical record, she commented, “There’s no shortage of things for us to work on.”
Hodge was on crutches at the time, “Let the fun begin.”
Two months passed and Hodge was now able to get around with just a cane for support. Trish marveled at her patient’s progress. “If someone would have told me that you would be at this point at this particular time in your therapy…I would have said impossible.”
“The credit is all yours,” Hodge smiled.
At the four month point, Hodge was walking with only a faint limp and at six months, he was running on the treadmill. When he completed three miles, Trish commented, “You could probably do another five, but that’s enough for today.”
On his last day of therapy, Hodge handed Trish a set of house keys. “What’s this,” She asked.
You mentioned that your living conditions aren’t ideal. You’re living with your teenage daughter in a two bedroom, one bath apartment. The landlord has raised the rent twice on you in the last 18 months and you’ve got noisy neighbors. The keys are to a three bedroom, three bath condo in a quiet area of Carlsbad.”
“You mean to rent?” Trish was puzzled.
“To live, take a look at it. If you like it, it’s yours free of charge. A small token of my appreciation for your efforts in getting me healthy again.”
Hodge left Trish speechless and with tears of joy in her eyes. His next stop was Mr. Korsak’s home. Hodge knocked on the door and the elderly gentleman answered it. Hodge handed him a large manila envelope. “This is the ultra-platinum warranty and service package. I paid ten years in advance. Any problems from foundation to roof and front yard to the back fence is covered. Since you’re not going ask me to help out anymore, I need to make sure that you’re safe.” Hodge walked off before Mr. Korsak could say a word.
Hodge started planning for his return to Africa. He wanted to be there for the dry season and discussed his options about investing the remainder of his insurance settlement with Ben.
“I have a friend, Mark Buckman with Family Investment Group. I’ve been very satisfied with the way he’s handled my portfolio.”
“Do you think I could get a meeting with him before I leave?”
“Absolutely,” Ben responded.
Things were going according to plan, Hodge got the appropriate vaccinations, his passport was in order and the wildlife conservation was expecting his arrival in five weeks. It was a cool morning so Hodge decided to take his run at 10am instead of at sunrise. He was returning to the neighborhood when he saw the moving truck parked down the street from Ben’s house. As he got closer, he saw two children, one boy and one girl playing ball in the front yard while the movers carried boxes and furniture into the house. The girl chased the ball into the street just as a car sped around the corner while being pursued by an Oceanside Police cruiser. Hodge instinctively ran toward the girl and pushed her out of harm’s way. At the last possible instant he leaped up to avoid the car smashing into his legs, a survival technique he learned while he was in the Corps. He rolled up the hood, hit the windshield and over the roof and was flipped into the air. Hodge landed on the advancing police car and was flipped again high into the air and when he came down, he landed on the soft couch that was setting curbside. It was a totally unbelievable, a once in a billion occurrence. Bystanders were dumfounded at what they just witnessed. Hodge stood up, knew that he was not injured, then shrugged, “No harm, no foul.”
St. Peter looked to his left and commented, “That was an epic display of divine intervention.”
God responded, “That’s the third life he’s saved in the past four years. Don’t you think that Hodge was about due for a miracle?”
“Yes sir,” St. Peter responded, “The special effects were a nice touch.”
God smiled, “Wait until you see what happens next?”
One of Trish Harmon’s suggestions after Hodge finished physical therapy was to stretch every day to keep his muscles flexible and joints loose. He would turn on meditation music, dim the lights and burn some incense then go through the regimen that was given to him. When he ran low on his favorite vanilla scent, he went down to the local smoke shop to purchase a few more packages. While reaching into his pocket for cash, he found a small piece of paper between a five and ten dollar bill. There were five numbers written on it. The clerk gave Hodge his change and as he was leaving the store, he stopped at the lottery stand and filled out a ticket with those five numbers on it. He gave the ticket and one dollar to the clerk.
St. Peter turned to God, “I wonder who put that in his pocket.”
God replied, “He can’t win if he doesn’t play.”
Hodge returned to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in the southwest of Kenya, running along the Tanzanian border and occupying 1,510 km and famous for its exceptional variety of wildlife including the Great Wildebeest Migration. The terrain of the reserve included, lush grasslands and woodlands along the Mara River and scattered bushes, boulders and savanna grasses on the Central Plains, and immediately began work for the wildlife foundation. In the mornings he would drive a water truck out to the dry holes and fill them for the thirsty animals. He would do three runs in the morning, come back to camp, rest for a few hours then go out at night with the park rangers to catch poachers. It was hard, brutal and dangerous work, but it was for a good cause.
The foundation was struggling with funding, donations were down. The truck was breaking down on a regular basis, poaching was increasing and the drought was getting worse.
Hodge developed a connection with the animals and when they would see his truck, they would rush to meet him. Predator or prey, they drank right next to each other, lion and gazelle, elephant and hyena. Hodge would take his camera and photograph the unique interactions. He was soon taking a couple hundred photos a day of the wildlife then downloading them to his laptop. There was one time when poachers attempted to ambush the truck, but the animals came out of the brush to warn Hodge by blocking the trail. He stopped the truck, took his rifle and pistol and followed a female lion to a concealed position behind the three men. Hodge called out, “Drop your weapons!” When they decided to fight, the former Marine had no choice but to kill them. Rumors of Hodge’s special connection with the animals spread throughout the region and poachers never tried to ambush him again.
During his stay in Africa, Hodge kept in touch with Ben, “It is good work that we’re doing here, but we need more people, more equipment and that means more money and we don’t have the budget. If things don’t change, we may have to shut down completely.”
“I can help you with that. Come back to Oceanside and we’ll put a plan together.”
“I’ll catch the next flight out.”
When he got back to Oceanside, Hodge asked, “I’m open to any suggestions, sir.”
“Take a look at your portfolio, it’s done pretty well since you’ve been gone.”
Hodge looked at the paperwork, “Is this some kind of joke? 311 million dollars.”
“You left a lottery ticket with the winning numbers on your nightstand. I had to put my name on it to cash it, but I didn’t think you’d mind. I’ve been working with a lawyer and some financial consultants while you were away. You’d be surprised how much paperwork is involved, but everything is ready to be transferred over to you,” Ben explained, “One more thing, I’ve showed those wildlife photos you sent me to some people and they said they were the best they’ve ever seen. Not that you need the money, but it looks like you got a talent for photography.”
Hodge paid the mortgages off for everybody who lived on the street that he grew up on. For those who already owned their homes, he gave them 250,000 dollars. Hodge decided to visit Trish Harmon while he was in town and showed her some of his photos.
Trish responded, “These are exceptional! My daughter is studying media communications in college. I bet she could help you get these posted on the internet.”
“Yeah sure, any help would be appreciated.” Hodge said.
“Do you think that I’ll ever get the opportunity to see these places and animals in person?” Trish coyly asked.
“Allow me to correct that oversight, first class airline tickets and accommodations for you are available upon request,” Hodge answered.
Trish gave Hodge an affectionate hug, one of those embraces that gave the impression of possibilities.
Hodge contacted members of his former unit and inquired if they were looking for work. When he got back to Africa with ten of them, he purchased fifteen brand new high capacity water trucks, dozens of surveillance drones and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on improving the security and infrastructure around the animal park and funded the hiring of a hundred local residents. A thousand signs were posted that read; Poachers Will Be Shot. Most heeded the warning, but a few thought that they possessed the skills to elude the roving patrols. Some didn’t believe the rumor that the animals would warn the Americans of their presence on the restricted lands. All of them came to realize the dire consequences of their error when they found out that Hodge was even more proficient with a pistol and a rifle than he was with a camera.
He quickly earned a worldwide reputation as the premier photographer of African wildlife. Hodge funded the construction of a large man- made lake that was fed by a modern aqueduct system from a distant river and underground spring. He then built a modest residence on a nearby hill and the animals would often drift by to pay their respects and socialize after quenching their thirst. While sitting on the porch with the panoramic view in the heat of the night or the cool of the day, when the afternoon breeze came over the mountain range, Hodge couldn’t help but marvel at the majestic beauty of these wonderful animals in their native habitat. How could anybody see what he was looking at and still not believe in a higher power? Looking back, he came to realize that every obstacle placed before him were stepping stones that led him to this point in his life.
He never thought of his life as a struggle or ever saw himself as a victim, but now Hodge knew how lucky he was. He was looking forward to Trish’s visit in two days and that feeling of anticipation felt like another gift from above. Here was a man that touched the world with the powerful poignancy of his wildlife photography. His friends felt honored and privileged to have him in their lives, and the recipients of his generosity were forever grateful. He even managed to impress God with his tenacity and bravery.
Thousands of words have been written about the life and exploits of this humble hero over the years by more distinguished and prolific writers than myself. But if I was forced to limit my description of this unique man, I suppose the following words would be as true and appropriate as any others I could find;
The Hodge never stopped trying and he never gave up and the world was better for it.