("The Mooremack News," December 1947)
(Courtesy of Vincent
When the Mormacgulf stopped at Boston recently en
route to Montreal, Captain J. R. Hodges was interviewed by the Christian
Science Monitor. The amusing story that resulted from this interview was
written by John Bunker, and is reproduced below in its entirety with the
permission of the Monitor:
"Passengers who ride the SS Mormacgulf of
Moore-McCormack Lines to South America never quite convince themselves that
Capt. J. R. Hodges is just Master of the ship.
"They keep thinking that this distinguished-appearing
Ship Master, in Boston on the Mormacgulf this week, is more likely a
tycoon, a new Ambassador off to some South American post, or perhaps a noted
archaeologist southward bound to prod among Inca ruins.
"But Captain Hodges, although he doesn’t act like the old
salt that passengers usually expect to see, has had enough adventure in his
twenty years in the merchant marine to fill a rip- roaring thriller of the
sea … and one well spiced with laughs, for skipper Hodges has a reputation
as a practical joker par excellence.
"He commanded the SS Mormacmoon in 1942 when it
was only one of four merchant ships from a convoy of 12 that got safely
through to Malta with supplies for that embattled island. That voyage, in
the first convoy to breach the Malta blockade, was an epic in itself, but
Captain Hodges likes better to talk about the time when he was Admiral of
the Colombian Navy. There’s more humor in that.
"Back in 1932 when the Colombian port of Leticia was
seized by Peru a virtual state of war existed in the jungles of the upper
"'While the League of Nations tried to settle the
trouble, both nations hurriedly recruited military and naval adventurers of
many nations for what appeared would soon be a large-scale war.
"It was then that Captain Hodges was offered—and
accepted—the job as Admiral and Commander in Chief of the Colombian Navy.
"Flying his Admiral’s flag on the cruiser Cucata,
the ex-12,000 ton American freighter, Commercial Traveler, Captain
Hodges led a fleet of 12 gunboats and destroyers more than 2,700 miles up
the Amazon to disputed Leticia. On board the ships were 4,000 fully
equipped soldiers led by English and German officers, and the crews of the
warships stood by their guns day and night for the battle they expected was
inevitable with the Peruvian fleet. However, the two fleets never met and
Admiral Hodges reinforced the garrison at Leticia before the Peruvian land
forces could reach the scene and provoke battle.
"'It was fun,' he recalls, ‘but I’m glad we never fired a
shot. I don’t know how I would have made out as an Admiral.'
"Fun-loving Hodges claims credit for playing an old trick
of the sea on a highfalutin’ group of sophisticated New Yorkers who once
rode his ship to Buenos Aires.
"When the vessel was off Miami the skipper circulated the
rumor that they would soon be passing a mail buoy and that all passengers
desiring to dispatch letters should get them to him immediately.
"Within an hour he had a stack of letters and, depositing
them in the ship’s safe, dumped some old papers in a sack and took them on
deck. When the ship soon passed a whistle buoy off Miami he ordered the
Bos'n to ‘heave the sack as near the buoy as possible so the Coast Guard can
pick it up.' Much to the delight of the passengers, who thought their
letters were in the sack, it went sailing overboard and floated close by the
buoy. Soon, the passengers thought, the Coast Guard would come along and
pick up their mail for delivery.
"At the first port the ship made in the Caribbean,
Captain Hodges took the actual letters from the ship’s safe and, secretly,
sent them back to New York on a northbound ship.
"The passengers, ignorant of the ruse, later wrote
glowing letters to the Ship’s operators, complimenting Captain Hodges on
getting their mail back home so quickly 'by his intelligent use of the