Gold Star Hall honors 2 fallen alumni, celebrates Veterans Day


Capt. Ricks Polk was one of the speakers at the Gold Star Hall ceremony. “Robert and James gave up their tomorrow, so that we can have a tomorrow,” Polk said. The Gold Star Hall memorial honored the ISU servicemen who fought in World War II and Vietnam, on Friday, Nov. 8, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union. Those honored were Robert Lynn and James Lee Merrick Jr. 


Two new names were added to the walls of Gold Star Hall. The Memorial Union honored two alumni who lost their lives in war during the university’s annual Veterans Day ceremony on Friday, Nov. 8. 

“I am so impressed that honoring veterans has been and continues to be a very important part of the culture and the fabric of ISU,” said Martino Harmon, associate vice president of Student Affairs. “Their legacy stands beyond their college service.”

The first person to be honored was Robert Lynn Hodson. Maj. James Stephens, adjunct assistant professor of Air Force aerospace studies, read Hodson’s life story to the attendants of the ceremony.

Hodson was born in 1918 in Eldon, Iowa. After graduating from Agency High School in 1936, he attended Iowa State for two years, studying general engineering.

“Robert left Iowa to begin his training as a navigator in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Texas and Miami. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1941 and later that year promoted to first lieutenant,” Stephens said. “He participated in a movie called ‘Bombardier,’ where he can be seen in the background.”

In 1942, he married Evelyn Ruth Grant, a business school student. Shortly afterward, Hodson was shipped overseas to fight in Europe during World War II.

“Hodson was to be the navigator on a B-17 Flying Fortress, the first military aircraft with a flight deck instead of an open cockpit,” Stephens said. “It was said to always get through in combat, due to its high durability and armament.”

Stephens said that Hodson and his crew were assigned a bombing mission to Germany in October 1943. The Allied Forces planned to attack a German ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt.

“Hodson navigated the ‘Fertile Myrtle III’ and was responsible for navigating the entire bomb raid group,” Stephens said. “Before they took off, Hodson sent a telegram to his wife, telling her to keep her chin up, a phrase that he was known for among his friends.”

Over Schweinfurt, the bomb raid group was fired upon heavily by the German Luftwaffe.

“The Fertile Myrtle engaged in a long and relentless battle with enemy fighters,” Stephens said.

One of the flak bursts killed Hodson, whose last words were to give the pilot orders on the new course of correction. He was the only crew member who died.

Shortly after Hodson’s death, Lt. Col. Sandy Moffett wrote a letter to his wife, stating that Hodson had been one of the most outstanding officers and gentlemen he had ever known. Moffett’s letter stated that “[Hodson] has lead this outfit on every one of the toughest missions and it has been said by all that flew with him that he was the best navigator in the Air Force.”

Terry Mason, assistant vice president of the student counseling service, continued the ceremony with the life story of the second honoree, James Lee Merrick Jr.

Merrick was born in Ames in 1943. In high school, he developed a love for golf.

“In a fateful golf meet, the score was tied, and it was up to Merrick to make his last putt to win the meet,” Mason said. “Unfortunately, the putt stopped 1 inch short of the hole, ending Ames High’s three-year reign as golf league champion.”

In 1961, Merrick attended Iowa State, where he joined Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. He enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officer’s Training Corps program.

“James Merrick was a member of the first group of American midshipmen to visit Australia since World War II,” Mason said.

After graduating from ISU in 1961, Merrick began his training as a naval aviator. He received his wings and was promoted to lieutenant in 1967. Mason said he flew an F-8C during the Vietnam War.

“On Thursday, Oct. 3, 1968, while returning from a routine mission over North Vietnam, Merrick was killed over the Gulf of Tonkin due to control failure,” Mason said. “Every year, his mother gives a scholarship in his name to the highest-ranking midshipman in the NROTC program at Iowa State who has been chosen for Naval Aviation Training.”

Capt. Ricks Polk, professor of naval science, spoke about the sacrifices the two honorees had made. 

“It is a privilege to learn about the lives of these two heroes,” Polk said. “Our depth of gratitude cannot match their sacrifice. Robert and James gave up their tomorrow, so that we can have a tomorrow.”

Kari Paige, junior in event management, came to the event to honor those who had served.

“My sister is in the Air Guard and has done her service, so I deeply respect what these guys did,” Paige said. “I thought the ceremony and the stories they told was appropriate and really impressive.”