Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

As a teenaged furniture mover, I glimpsed the personal lives of Arlington’s many military families: Their PX privileges, their inevitable Southeast Asian ceramic elephant end tables, their children forced by frequent transfers to make new friends fast.

My co-worker back in the ‘70s was one such “military brat,” high school classmate Dick Bodson. Now a technology contracting executive, he is fortunate that his Army man of a father, whose remarkable career during World War II and the Cold War did so much to mold his upbringing, is still among us at 102.

Before the virus lockdowns, I was treated to dinner with Col. Henry “Hank” Bodson, a member of the famous West Point Class of ’41 that graduated in time for live combat. Now in the Falcons Landing retirement community in Potomac Falls, the older Bodson can still converse amiably. But he can no longer richly detail his stories of training Audie Murphy and helping liberate Hitler’s mountain retreat like he did, as the son puts it, as a “cerebral, unemotional, ethical, calculating” engineer.

Soldier Bodson landed in Southern France in August 1944 with the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division after helping take Italy, I learned. That Operation Dragoon was too often overshadowed by the D-Day invasion the same summer, as was observed at an August 2009 ceremony for Dragoon veterans at the Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater. Asked to speak then, Bodson recalled setting up howitzers that drove the German 19th Army back 100 miles a day.

His historic unit then took Rome and made its way to take over Hitler’s Bavarian mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. Bodson came away with souvenirs of the Nazi inner circle — hand towels branded by the nearby hotel that serviced the Great Dictator.

It was during that tour that Bodson served with Murphy — the war’s most decorated American fighting man and future movie star. Murphy “was getting bored and restless in his staff assignment,” Bodson later told the authors of a book on the West Point ‘41ers. He shouted, “Let’s go out and get some Krauts!”

After the German surrender, Bodson bumped into the “freckle-faced, likeable” Murphy during R&R on the French Riviera. The prodigy war hero pressed Bodson on how he, as a Texan with a 5th grade education, could get into West Point. “I’m missing a piece of my ass from mortar shells,” Murphy acknowledged. “I don’t recall a full ass being a requirement,” Bodson replied, though realistically he felt the Congressional Medal of Honor winner lacked the requisite academics.

Bodson went on to 28 years of uniformed service, with postwar assignments in Fort Sill, Okla., and Cambodia, followed by 12 civilian years in Arlington at the Pentagon. A highlight was being stationed in tundra terrain in Alaska, in the early 50s, where he made his bones setting up the Nike system to thwart Soviet guided missiles.

Son Dick recalls a lunch at the Fort Myer Officers Club in which his father introduced him to another Army combat hero, the late Sherman Pratt, a stalwart of the Arlington Historical Society.

Bodson’s wife Belle died in 1984, and is buried at Arlington, where Hank will one day rest.

Late this March, the Falcons Landing home made news by reporting the arrival of the coronavirus, with one death. Because of the subsequent restrictions, the younger Bodson can no longer visit his father in person.

Arlington Police Chief Jay Farr took pre-emptive action May 29 by releasing a localized statement responding to last week’s death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

He assured Arlingtonians that the “department is committed to providing our officers with exceptional training. New officers each receive approximately 800 hours of formal Academy training followed by 630 hours of field training.” It covers “legal issues/review, cultural diversity, implicit bias, ethics, verbal judo, conflict communications, defensive tactics, firearms, investigations.”

Given the scads of news stories on police misconduct in recent years, it makes you wonder why Farr’s counterparts in Minnesota weren’t so skilled at anticipating.