You Are Not Forgotten
By Michele Townsend
“YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN” are the words that are carved into Lt Gregory Hodson’s paving stone, that is located in the All Veterans Memorial section of Capitol Park.This section is a tribute to all veterans. This statement couldn’t be more fitting, or accurate. Gregory Keith Hodson grew up in West Sacramento, along with his three best friends. In 1961 the four of them graduated from James Marshall High School in West Sac. They had all four joined the military, but each in a different branch. The Vietnam War was going on, and Greg had become a US Navy Pilot. On October 2nd 1964, Greg along with Lt Harold S Roach Jr, from Coronado Ca., and Horace E Rainey – AT3 (Aviation Technician) were returning to the USS Kearsarge, a seventh fleet anti-submarine carrier (after a “routine training mission”…over the war zone). The ship was located in the South China Sea just outside of the war zone. There were high, rough seas that were rocking the ship violently. Greg came in for the first attempt of landing the S-F2 Tracker Plane that he was flying but the rocking of the ship was too severe. He made a second attempt, but still no luck. On the third attempt they thought he had it, but the movement was too severe and the plane fell off of the bow, plunging 700 yards into the sea below. All three members of the crew perished, and their bodies were never found.
In approximately 1998, Greg’s childhood friend, Bill Spurgin, went to the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, in Ca State Capitol Park, and discovered that his good friend, and fellow Vet was not listed on the wall of the 5,622 Ca Service Members! He didn’t understand how such a major mistake could have been made, and he set his mind to rectifying it. He later found out that a family friend of Lt. Roach’s had visited the Memorial Wall, in Washington D.C, and the three crew members were not listed among the 58,286 American names at that site either. Nor were they listed in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) list of soldiers killed in action! How could this be!? They were, however, listed in the USS Kearsarge’s “Yearbook”. Bill spent many frustrating and emotional years digging into why this crew was excluded from the memorials. The DOD said that they “were not a casualty of war because they were killed outside of the war zone”. The ship was a carrier, and just outside Vietnamese waters, but the planes were flying missions in the war zone!
The fight to add veteran’s that died combat related deaths began. As you can imagine, there has been TONS of paperwork that went to the DOD, and to the Legislature. Bill enlisted the help of CalVets to help change this injustice. Together, they filed form after form trying to make changes, to include combat related deaths. They wanted to include not only those that died in the line of duty, but also those that die later due to Agent Orange. In 1982 the Memorial began to recognize combat related deaths, but specifically exclude PTSD related suicides, and deaths due to health issues from Agent Orange exposure. Not everyone agreed with this addition. Zach Earp, former President of Vietnam Veterans of America (who has since passed from health issues that were a direct result from Agent Orange), declared that “The Memorial is very sacred ground. The original intent was to honor those killed in action. In some way, it lessens the integrity of the memorial”.
It took more than 10 years for Bill to get approval to add a stepping stone in his good friend’s name to the walkway in Capitol Park. In 2011, Bill and his brother John (who is also a US Army Vietnam Vet) split the $500 cost of the stepping stone that would honor his friend. The stone read “Lt. Gregory Keith Hodson, United States Navy, You are not forgotten, South China Sea, Oct 2, 1964” But Bill didn’t stop there! With the help and support of many, including West Sac VFW 8720, Senator Lois Wolk, Senator Vic Fazio, CalVets, and Mike Mcgowan, just to name a few…the Calif. Department of Veteran Affairs enacted a law that requires Ca to add names to the memorial every year until 2020, to include current wars.
While Bill has been working on this “mission”, he tried to find and contact the families of the other two crew members aboard that plane, but to no avail. However, CalVet was able to track down the family of Lt. Roach. It was a good thing that they did, because on Memorial Day 2017, Bill FINALLY gets to see the black granite panel where his good friend gets the honor and recognition that he deserves. Lt Roach will also be added to the memorial wall, and his family is expected to attend. They are all are excited and anxious to meet. Horace Rainey will not be added however, because he is not a California Vet. You never really forget your childhood best friends, but Bill Spurgin has truly honored what those friendships mean.