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Centenarian and WWII veteran a teacher for the ages

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CHAUMONT — At 104, Glenn N. Dodge is many things to many people.

But upon meeting Mr. Dodge at his Route 12E home in the village, it becomes apparent shortly after a vice-like handshake, that he is still a teacher — a profession interrupted 80 years ago on an isolated Grindstone Island when he answered the call to serve in World War II.

He’s been a dedicated community volunteer for decades and he’s a wise, old sage, demonstrated at his daily visits to Diane’s Coffee Shop in Dexter where he and his compadres “solve” the issues of the world.

For his birthday on Oct. 13, the Chaumont Volunteer Fire Department, of which Mr. Dodge has been a member for nearly 80 years, hosted a parade for him. In 2005, the fire department created the Glenn Dodge Community Service Award to honor others who have followed his lead in serving the community. The first one was given to him.

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

Glenn N. Dodge sits for a photo as he shares stories in the living room of his home in Chaumont on Nov. 3. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

Photographs from Glenn Dodge’s service in the army during World War II are kept in a binder full of memorabilia and others photos from his life at his home in Chaumont. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

In 2018, Mr. Dodge served as grand marshal of the Sackets Harbor Veterans Day Parade.

Other organizations he has volunteered at include the Lyme Free Library and All Saints Catholic Church. In 2019, the state of New York inducted him into the State Senate’s Veterans Hall of Fame.

The test of time for Mr. Dodge has been enhanced by his positive attitude, which he said is something everyone can learn from.

“Wake up in the morning, and have a goal for the day,” Mr. Dodge said. “I don’t care what it is, if it’s no more than to hoe the garden. Have a goal for the day! That’s a big deal.”

A declining fraternity

According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive.

In New York, there are approximately 14,700 living veterans of the war. So on this Veterans Day, a visit with someone like Mr. Dodge, a centenarian who recalls dates and names with sharp accuracy, is a treasure. His combat service, where he earned a Bronze Star and was awarded a Purple Heart, was followed by years of service in the Army Reserves.

Sitting at his kitchen table, in front of a wood-burning stove and the conversation fueled by a bowl of peanut M&Ms, Mr. Dodge explained that he was born in Ogdensburg on Oct. 13, 1917, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ward E. Dodge. His father was a chauffeur for a doctor, but his dad always wanted to be a farmer.

“He got a farm near Madrid,” Mr. Dodge said. “He didn’t own it. He had shares.”

Mr. Dodge graduated from Madrid High School and then went to Potsdam Normal School, now SUNY Potsdam, because he said he couldn’t find a job.

“People were really hurting during the Great Depression,” he said. “A lot of men were working just for room and board.”

After graduating from Potsdam Normal School in 1937, he became a teacher at a one-room schoolhouse, District 15, one of two schools on Grindstone Island. His students were in first to eighth grades.

Mr. Dodge rented a home on Grindstone.

“It was a grand community, that island,” Mr. Dodge recalled. “You could hunt anyplace you wanted to and fish anytime. The game wardens never came over to bother us.”

On the pastoral island in the late 1930s, there were just minor rumblings of war.

“There were people who thought about it because we knew what was going on,” Mr. Dodge said, specifically pointing out the ongoing attacks on China by Japan, which began in 1931. “But for the most part, the general populace didn’t give a damn about it.”

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

A drawing commemorating Glenn N. Dodge and his participation in the 2018 Sackets Harbor Veterans Day Parade hangs in his home in Chaumont among photographs and the 104-year-old's own paintings. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

A ‘Railsplitter’

In 1940, the U.S. instituted the Selective Service Training and Service Act, which required all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft. It was the first peacetime draft in American history.

Mr. Dodge was drafted in October 1940. But because he was a teacher, he was deferred until the middle of January 1941. He was sworn in that year in Albany, then shipped to Camp Upton on Long Island, which was used to mobilize U.S. troops.

“From there, a whole train load of us were shipped down to Fort Jackson, South Carolina,” Mr. Dodge said. “We didn’t know where the hell we were going.”

He was assigned to the 28th Infantry of the 8th Infantry Division as a rifleman.

But the Army, Mr. Dodge said, needed second lieutenants.

“So I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, and became a 90-day wonder and became a second lieutenant,” he said, serving with C Company, 333rd Regiment, 84th Infantry Division — “The Railsplitters.” He specialized in reconnaissance.

He was deployed to the European theater and the first action he saw was with British troops on the northern part of the Siegfried Line — fortifications erected before World War II along Germany’s western frontier.

“We were trying to get through the Siegfried Line as our first real action,” Mr. Dodge said. “It wasn’t successful for us. We lost quite a few guys trying to break through. The British were excellent soldiers and bright as all get out. They also lost a lot of men.”

Mr. Dodge’s Company C was then pulled back into Holland in December of 1944. The people of the town invited its members to stay in their homes. Mr. Dodge recalled the day the “mail caught up with them.” He received two boxes from his mom, filled with Christmas decorations and candies. He shared the gifts with the family he was staying with; the mother of the family lovingly placing the candies in glass dishes she fetched from her china cabinet. Neighbors were invited over to see the wonder.

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

Various awards, certificates, memorabilia and photographs from Glenn N. Dodge’s time serving in the U.S. Army and his life beyond hang in the hallway of his home in Chaumont. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Battle of Bulge veteran

Later, Mr. Dodge saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, a German counteroffensive in the Ardennes region of Belgium, that began in mid-December 1944 and lasted until late January 1945.

“On the last day of the Bulge, I got wounded,” Mr. Dodge said. “I was on this hill overlooking Houffalize (Belgium) for the contact between Third and First Armies was made.”

German troops, Mr. Dodge said, were attempting to get out.

“They didn’t have fuel, they didn’t have food or ammunition because we inched off the bulge, and they couldn’t get it up to their troops. Those poor sons of guns suffered just as well as we did.”

He was wounded when a German shell ricochetted off a tree and shrapnel hit his right arm. A hospital train took him to Paris, where a surgeon told him he may never regain full use of his arm. However, Mr. Dodge said he was able to sneak out of the hospital in Paris and go to bistros, where he used self physical therapy in the form of raising “beer curls” with the arm.

“So it worked out fine,” he said, laughing. “I rejoined the outfit at the west bank of the Rhine.”

On April 14, 1945, while leading a reconnaissance patrol deep into enemy territory, Mr. Dodge directed the capture of 18 Germans, from whom he gained information. The patrol also succeeded in seizing a large quantity of enemy machine guns and rifles. For that, he would be given the Bronze Star.

Weeks before Germany surrendered in May 1945, Mr. Dodge’s unit was on the banks of the Elbe River in Germany, “waiting for the Russians to show up,” when he was informed that he was granted a 30-day leave, based on points he had earned.

“You know how long it took me to get ready to leave? Seconds!” he said.

He was aboard a Victory-class ship heading to the U.S. when he got word of Germany’s surrender.

A brotherhood of service

Mr. Dodge came from a large family, with six brothers and two sisters. Two of this brothers also served in World War II. Brother and Staff Sgt. Ward A. Dodge also received a Bronze Star. Ward was attached to 12th Armored Division of the 92nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. He was badly burned in action in Germany, was captured and held for five weeks as prisoner of war before he was released by French forces in April 1945.

“He had nothing but praise for the German doctors because they saved his eyesight,” Mr. Dodge said.

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

Medals given to Glenn N. Dodge for his time serving in the U.S. Army hang in the hallway of his home in Chaumont. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

Various awards, certificates, memorabilia and photographs from Glenn N. Dodge’s time serving in the U.S. Army and his life beyond hang in the hallway of his home in Chaumont. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

Wilfred E. Dodge, as of 1945, had been in the European theater for 15 months. All three brothers would become members of the 332nd Army Reserve unit.

Mr. Dodge said that his parents naturally worried about their three sons in the war.

“But my mother was quite religious, and she certainly knew how to pray,” Mr. Dodge said. “She went to church and so on, and I think that helped a great deal. They lived in Watertown and went to Sacred Heart parish.”

Four other brothers did not serve because they were too young or they had physical limitations. Of his six brothers and four sisters, Glenn is the only surviving sibling.

Back to the classroom

Back home, Mr. Dodge joined the Army Reserve, in which he served until 1967, and continued his teaching career after earning a bachelor’s degree. In Theresa and Lyme schools, he taught biology, chemistry and physics. In Watertown, he taught history and retired from the district in 1973.

“I enjoyed school,’ Mr. Dodge said. “I’m pretty much into anything. I don’t care what it is. I was, shall I say, a nerd in that respect. But I enjoy what I’m doing. I don’t give a rip if I’m cleaning a cow’s stable. I enjoy what I do. I get satisfaction of doing a job.”

With the help of family and friends, Mr. Dodge is able to live by himself at his home. He stopped driving at age 102.

“My vision was going bad and I had no desire to hurt anyone,” he said. “I hated to stop driving, but I said, ‘This is no good.’”

Fortuitously, next-door neighbor Kathleen S. Robinson is a retired registered nurse. She worked for 32 years at North Country Family Health Center and at Mercy Hospital in Watertown. During his interview with the Times, Mr. Dodge asked daughter Karen Fitzgerald to give Kathy a call to see if she was free to come over and chat. She was.

“I’m blessed and honored to be next to Glenn,” Mrs. Robinson said. “He’s such a sweet person and a good man. I just love him. He’s been ‘grandpa’ to my children for all these years. My oldest one is almost 45. He just means a lot to all of us. He’s just a special person.”

“And the granddaughter that she has and comes over — she’s a doll,’” Mr. Dodge said. “She’s pretty as all get-out. She says she’s coming over to see ‘Grandpa Dodge,’ but the reason she comes over here is to get to the iPad. She knows how to run it, get the things she wants, music or whatever. She’s better at it than I am!”

Mrs. Robinson said that she and Mr. Dodge have a daily routine. She helps him get dressed and going.

“And then we go to the diner (Diane’s) for breakfast, and has the same thing all the time: one egg over easy, one slice of toast and half an order of home fries,” she said. “People come up and say hello. Everybody knows Glenn. From there, we go to the post office and sometimes we go for a ride.”

Dotted on the walls of Mr. Dodge’s residence, along with military medals and memorabilia, are oil and acrylic paintings he created with no formal training. He had an exhibit at Flower Memorial Library in 1977 and at the National Bank of Northern New York in Watertown in 1978.

Despite the strong evidence, Mr. Dodge said he’s not an artist: “I’ve painted some pictures for my own fun,” he said.

“He painted pictures for his friends and of their farms or their barns,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said. “He gave most of them away.”

“I made people take them!” Mr. Dodge responded, laughing.

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

A portrait of Glenn N. Dodge surrounded by signatures and well wishes from his 100th birthday celebration hangs next to a winter scene he painted some years ago in the living room at his home in Chaumont. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

But Mr. Dodge said the best art piece in the house is a mural on a wall off the foot of his bed created by Robert E. Montford, a retired art teacher who taught at Sackets Harbor. It was created for Mr. Dodge’s 100th birthday and features a short timeline of his life: an Army scene with a soldier’s feet sticking out of a pup tent, Mr. Dodge as a teacher, reading, and doing the other things he loves, such as celebrating the arrival of a new car and gambling at a casino.

“I think that’s the best thing going,” Mr. Dodge said. “I wake up the morning, and here I am, 100 years old.”

Yes, he’s actually 104. But a milestone Mr. Dodge is looking forward to is turning 105, in 11 months. A grand party is planned at his residence.

“We’ll have a couple three kegs of beer,” he said.

But not for him.

“I can’t drink beer anymore,” Mr. Dodge said. “It tastes awful. I did my share.”

‘Do the best you can do’

When the conversation moved to his living room, Mr. Dodge pointed out a photograph, taken in 2012, of himself and his second wife, Nina. She resides in a Lowville care facility because of her dementia.

“She hasn’t known me in over five years,” Mr. Dodge said.

After pausing briefly to reflect back on their relationship and without being prompted, Mr. Dodge said, “Well, it happened this way.”

He explained that his first wife, Marion, whom he wed in 1948, died in 2000 at the age of 81. Nina’s husband died in January 2006. Nina and Marion were close friends.

“What’s the sense of living alone?” Mr. Dodge said. “That was six years. I took Nina out to dinner a few times, took her to the casino a few times, and finally I said, ‘Why don’t we just live together? Shack up!’”

“She says, ‘Nothing doing. If we live together, we’re going to be married,’” Mr. Dodge recalled. “We went and saw the priest, said we wanted to get married. The priest said, ‘Do you have to?’” Mr. Dodge laughed at this recollection. “I was 89!”

Chaumont centenarian and WWII veteran is a teacher for the ages

Glenn N. Dodge tells stories about capturing soldiers in World War II at the dining room table in his home in Chaumont on Nov. 3. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

They lived in Lowville until Nina became ill and needed extended care. Mr. Dodge then moved back to his Chaumont home at age 95.

“You face reality and do the best you can do and call it good,” Mr. Dodge said. “You’d like to do more, but you can’t. It’s just the same as any other activity.”

For fun these days, he likes to visit casinos, with the Shorlines Casino Thousands Islands in Gananoque, Ontario, now his favorite. For years, he annually drove across country with his wives to Las Vegas.

He dislikes the mechanical machines at casinos, instead favoring the card games Let it Ride and three-card poker.

“I feel like I have no control,” he said of casino machines. “Whereas playing with cards, you do have some control. You can throw them away.”

Something else Mr. Dodge dislikes and something he has no time for is people who complain a lot.

“I like people with the attitude, ‘This is a good day. I’ve got this done,’” he said.

When finishing up his interview, a Times photographer let him look at her camera’s screen to view a few photos she had taken of him.

“Kathy! You should come see!” he said. “She’s got some pretty good pictures!”

“Well, you’re a pretty good specimen,” Kathy responded.

Shortly later, before his visitors from the Times left, Mr. Dodge, always the teacher and with a sense of class, offered them more M&Ms, wished them well and added: “I hope I did you some good.”

Yes, Mr. Dodge. As you say, we “got this done,” on this — “a good (Veterans) day.”

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