Dash Thirty Dash Mel Hodell, 102, SB County Newspaper Publisher

Mel Hodell, the former publisher of the Montclair Tribune, the Upland News and the Cucamonga News, has died.
One of the last of the generation of community builders in San Bernardino County’s West End who were shaped by their participation in World War II, Hodell was 102 when succumbed from natural causes on January 31.
Hodell led a dynamic existence in more than one venue, those being a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot providing crucial logistics support for Chiang Kai-Shek in his resistance of the Japanese invasion of China, his time as a young journalist, his raising of a family, then, penultimately, as a newspaper publisher and, ultimately as a newspaper broker.

Melvin Ernest Hodell born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1921. He and his younger sister were raised by his single mother, both in Chicago and Detroit.
Hodell acknowledged having developed a poor attitude as a kid, living in a residence with his mother, grandmother and sister that was the anterior to a hair salon where his mother worked.
He eventually found purpose working as a teenaged copy boy and then copyeditor for the Detroit Times and Detroit News. In the role of a copy boy, he would pick up from this reporter or that a sheaf of carbon copies on butcher papers of his most recent tentatively typed story and run one of each to the copy editor’s desk, the sub editor’s room, the editor’s desk and to the editor, crying “copy” at each stop. Eventually, at the age of 17, he was promoted to the position of copy editor, leaving that post to become a student at Northwestern University.
At Northwestern he majored in liberal arts, with a minor in journalism. In June 1944, after graduating from Northwestern with a bachelor’s degree, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant. Following basic training and flight school, he was sent to the China Burma India Theater on December 9, 1944 as part of the Army Air Corps Air Transport Command’s India China Division, then commanded by General Earl Hoag, taking part in the effort to supply the Chinese forces under Chiang Kai-Shek as well as the United States Army Air Forces in China.
This required that the pilots take their planes, primarily DC-3s, C-39a, C-46s, C-47s and C-53s from their base in Assam, India over the “hump” that is, the Himalaya Mountains to Kunming, China.
The supply effort had undergone multiple permutations prior to Hodell’s arrival, having started out as an operation of the Assam–Burma–China Command in April 1942, when the Japanese blocked the Burma Road, followed by the mission carried out by the India-China Ferry Command of the Tenth Air Force, which initiated in July 1942, and was superseded by the Air Transport Command’s India-China Wing’s effort as of December 1942. When the Air Transport Command reorganized its China supply effort as a function of the India-China Division in July 1944, Hodell was assigned to its flight crews as a pilot.
The Himalaya range includes eight of the ten highest peaks in the world, including ones of 29,035 feet, 27,940 feet, 27,766 feet, 26,906 feet, 25,557 feet, 25,190 feet, 24,012 feet, 23,736 feet, 23,440 feet, 23,389 feet, 22,349 feet and about 16 others over 19,685. In making the flights, the pilots generally flew at about 18,500 feet through a “groove” between the surrounding peaks where the highest land was about 16,000 feet above sea level.
The C-47 “Goony Bird,” and C-46 “Dumbo” that Hodell flew were relatively reliable planes in the environment where they were developed – North America – but were put to the test flying at high altitudes over the Himalayas, particularly during winter months, when the plane’s engines and other systems would freeze. Carrying heavy payloads that had to get off the ground and then climb to considerable heights put strain on the engines, which accordingly were in need of constant maintenance.
On occasion, Japanese fighter pilots eluded the American fighters seeking to prevent them from molesting the transport planes, and a few American transport pilots were sent to an early grave as a result. Navigation was a particular problem. Given the terrain the planes were flying over and the sudden onset of the war, many of the charts used by pilots as drafted were unreliable. There were no radio navigation facilities to speak of and meteorological data in that day and age was nonexistent or of questionable validity. In certain frigid conditions, turbulence experienced while flying over the Himalayas resulted in wings falling off of the planes.
Planes and crews involved in the Assam–Burma–China Command, India-China Ferry Command, India-China Wing and India-China Division, all of which were cargo planes, suffered the highest rate of losses among any non-combatant air fleets of the war. In total, the effort resulted in 594 aircraft lost, missing, or written off, with 1,659 personnel killed or missing, such that one out of three pilots involved in the missions perished.
The planes delivered all order of equipment, armament, weapons, ammunition and bombs, as well as troops, beasts of burden and food. The most hazardous payloads – ones which were frequently carried – was aviation fuel, high octane kerosene intended to keep Claire Chennault’s “Flying Tigers,” and later the U.S. 14th Air Force fully engaged against the Japanese in China. The fuel was of such high-octane that it could ignite or explode very readily. On the 625-mile flights, the pilots and co-pilots had to withstand severe cold, indeed freezing temperatures for more than three hours of the flights as the use of the only available source of warmth, propane-fueled open flame heaters presented too great of a danger, given the cargo they were carrying.
Aluminum Dreams offers a description of one flight in which Hodell, co-piloting a cargo plane, was told by the pilot of the no longer climbing aircraft that he should ready himself to bail out before the plane flew into the side of an oncoming mountain. The plane, with its propellers and wings iced over, was certain to crash, as it could not power itself over the 16,000-foot altitude it needed to achieve. Yet jumping from the plane offered little more prospect of survival than staying in the plane, as Hodell would most certainly find himself in an unknown and uncharted spot in the snow-covered Himalayas upon parachuting to the ground. As it turned out, the door out of which they were to exit or jettison the cargo in a desperate ploy to lighten the craft was also sealed in ice, and would not open. As if by divine providence, the plane encountered a warm air updraft, lifting it to an altitude that allowed it to clear the pass through the mountains and which caused the ice to slide off the propellers.
The atmosphere in which the planes flew was in stark contrast to the oppressively sultry heat in Assam during the late spring and summer months.
Hodell flew 65 cargo delivery trips from Assam to Kunming, logging 553 air hours over the Hump. He remained in India well into 1946.
With the war over and his days as a Hump pilot having come to an end, Hodell was discharged, on in the parlance of the day, demobilized. He returned stateside, where he again matriculated at Northwestern, using the GI Bill to defray the cost of his education so that he did not need to work part-time and attend class part-time. He was enrolled in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, from which he obtained his master’s degree. While at Medill, he began as a reporter and then became the night editor and ultimately the managing editor at the Daily Northwesterner, where Virginia Gum of Mississippi, another journalism student, was writing.
Hodell and Gum graduated from Northwestern in 1947 and married, embarking on professional journalistic careers together. They were stringers at first with the Chicago City News and then moved into writing positions with the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. After a year there, they moved to Merced, California in 1949 and remained in the Golden State for nearly three years, during which time they started a family. In 1952, they moved to Naperville, Illinois, where Hodell bought that city’s newspaper, the Clarion.
After publishing the Clarion for six years, Hodell sold it and moved his family to California in 1958, to the Inland Empire and ultimately to Upland. The family would ultimately take up residence in a grand Spanish Colonial style home located at 1388 North Euclid Avenue.
Hodell bought the Upland News from Vernon Paine on October 1, 1958. On September 1, 1960, he acquired the Montclair Tribune. He founded the Cucamonga News on December 10, 1961. In 1967, he sold the three newspapers to the Bonita Publishing Company. In the latter years of Hodell’s ownership of the Upland News, he employed Jack Harper as the paper’s editor.
The Upland News ceased publication in 1974. The Montclair Tribune ceased publication in 1977. The Cucamonga News was subsumed by the Highlander, which discontinued publication in the 1990s.
Subsequent to his sale of the News, the Tribune and the News, Hodell became a newspaper broker, reprsenting both buyers and sellers of newspapers during the next 23 years, as the printed newspaper industry was contracting. He retired following the death of Virginia in 2001.
He maintained an active interest in journalism and was a Sentinel subscriber.
In 2009, the Department of Defense, some 64 years late, conferred upon him the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service during the war.
In 2010, the California Newspaper Publishers Association bestowed upon Hodell the Philip N. McCombs Achievement Award and named him as a member of its hall of fame.
Mark Gutglueck

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