LISTEN to Bob Dodds on Hometown Heroes
91-year-old Bob Dodds of Las Vegas, NV appears on episode #420 of Hometown Heroes, debuting May 21, 2016. A native of Aurora, CO, Dodds graduated from Hollywood (CA) High School at the age of 16 and enlisted in the Navy at 17.
He would spend 26 years in the Navy, retiring as a Chief Petty Officer after serving in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. For decades, Dodds didn’t talk much about his military service, convinced that no one really cared to hear about it. His recent journey to the National World War II Memorial and other Washington, D.C. monuments with Honor Flight Southern Nevada left him overwhelmed by how much people actually do care.
Assigned to the submarine tender USS Pelias (AS-14), he arrived at Pearl Harbor about two weeks before the Japanese attack. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Bob explain how he experienced December 7, 1941 aboard the Pelias. When planes flew overhead, he didn’t realize they were enemy aircraft until he heard an explosion on the other side of Ford Island.
“There’s a big puff of smoke, and I’m thinking maybe they’re just playing around or something,” Dodds recalls. “Then a couple more come over and I thought no, they’re not playing around, this is serious.”
You’ll hear the unexpected challenge Bob encountered next in trying to alert the ship’s crew to what was happening, how long the engagement seemed to last in his mind, why he feels fortunate to have been where he was, and why he has never been to the USS Arizona Memorial. For the next few days, Bob had to help clean up the harbor, using sand, straw, and pitchforks to gather up the thick black oil that covered the water. A gruesome reality confronted the 17-year-old as his clean up efforts occasionally turned up body parts from sailors killed in the attack. “That was the worst part of the whole deal,” Dodds says. “I don’t think there’s any classes you can take to prepare you for that.”
After sailing with the USS Pelias to Australia, he was transferred to the destroyer USS Monssen (DD-436). In November 1942, with two cruisers, a carrier, and six destroyers, the Monssen sailed to Guadalcanal and Tulagi to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing their armies there. At 2:20 AM on November 13, 1942, the Monssen encountered the enemy fleet, was rocked by explosions, and eventually sank in flames. Bob was in the chart room when the bridge was hit by enemy fire, narrowly escaping death. Along with three other men, he escaped the burning Monssen, and spent the night floating in the water, waiting to be rescued. Although some of the men wanted to try to swim to shore, Dodds refused. You’ll hear Bob explain how this decision was one that would save his life and the lives of his comrades. Despite his circumstances, Dodds remained optimistic about his survival. “Some way, I’m going to get out of this,” he remembers thinking. I’m not going to die here.”
He and his three friends were rescued by a minesweeper, and for decades believed they were the only survivors of the Monssen. In actuality, roughly 40% of the ship’s screw survived that deadly encounter with three destroyers and one cruiser.
Watch the video below for Bob Dodd’s explanation of why his dog tag is still on the Monssen, which was discovered upright in “Iron Bottom Sound” in 1992. During the Korean War, Bob served aboard the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61), which is now a museum ship in San Pedro, CA. He spent time in Vietnam as well, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the importance and value of his service really came into focus. Listen to Hometown Heroes for Bob’s account of his adventure with Honor Flight Southern Nevada, including a visit to the National World War II Memorial.
“It was out of this world,” you’ll hear him say. “I could never in my wildest dreams imagine anything like it. It was a healing thing. It showed that people cared.”
Yes, people do care, Bob, and thanks to your willingness to share your story, we all have a better idea of what you and so many other Americans have endured for the sake of our freedom. Thanks to Belinda Morse of Honor Flight Southern Nevada for connecting us to Bob and his story.