The Other Captain Rodman
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I have heard this story a few times throughout my life. I never imagined when I heard it as a kid, or even as a college and graduate student, that I would one day choose to join the military as a judge advocate. This story, at the time, was just a story about my grandmother’s moxie and an important change to my grandfather’s path in life. The story goes…
My grandfather was drafted during World War II in 1942. He had recently graduated from Columbia Law School, after winning a scholarship based on his academic performance as an undergraduate at City College. He was the son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, who were intensely proud of being American. My great grandfather was assigned the name “Rodman” at Ellis Island. I sometimes lament not knowing what my “real” last name is, but based on the stories I have heard about him, I am sure his response would be that all I need to know is that I am American. Although some similarly situated men would have tried to get their orders modified, my grandfather had grown up with this great patriotism and appreciation for duty and reported to boot camp, much to my grandmother’s chagrin.
While my grandfather was in boot camp, my grandmother got to work. She would later earn her PhD and become a tenured professor at Cornell Medical School and Rockefeller University, specializing in microbiology and immunology — an incredibly trail-blazing feat for a woman of her generation. However, at the time she was newly married and was concerned about her husband becoming a private in the U.S. Army.
My grandmother bought a train ticket from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. and made her way to the Pentagon. She got into the building by insisting she had a meeting with Colonel Springer, the officer responsible for manpower assignments for the Army. When she arrived at Colonel Springer’s office, she sat outside and refused to leave until he granted her an audience. At the end of the day, he finally saw her, and she explained how much better utilized my grandfather would be as an officer and a JAG.
When my grandfather graduated from boot camp, he received his orders to Michigan, and the U.S. Army JAG School.
I now reflect on this story, and have an endless number of follow-up questions. How in the world did my grandmother sneak into the Pentagon, let alone figure out who Colonel Springer was and how to get to his office? (Although his first name was never included in the story, a bit of research shows a Colonel Allen R. Springer as Chief of the Manpower Allocation Division at the time, but she wouldn’t have had Google at her disposal, of course.) Could anyone even imagine a young wife doing this today, and how she would be received?
My grandmother is still alive, but she told this story for the last time as she was slipping into severe dementia about seven or eight years ago. It was before I joined the military, but I listened intently enough to remember the name “Springer” this one final time. She can no longer communicate coherently.
My grandfather paid for all of my schooling. Based on the trial advocacy skills he earned in the JAG Corps, he was able to make a fantastic living as an attorney in New York City. I was fortunate enough to go to the best private grade, undergraduate, and graduate schools. When I was in my final year of graduate school, he broke his hip and I went to visit him, in the hospital; he was 93. My father asked him if I had told him what I would be doing after school. I was mortified — I hadn’t told him because I was afraid that my grandfather would disapprove of my choice. He had worked so hard to provide for all of us, from such humble beginnings — was I throwing that all away by returning to his roots?
When I told him I was planning on joining the Marine Corps, he smiled a huge smile (one he was famous for), and said happily, “so there’s going to be another Captain Rodman.” That was our last conversation; he died of pneumonia three months later.
You never know which stories end up being the most important. I wish now I had asked more questions, even though I never could have predicted I’d now be Captain Rodman.
Lindsay Rodman is a Captain in the United States Marine Corps.