StoryCorps
6:17 am
Sat April 13, 2013

A Pianist's Ultimate Sacrifice: Giving It All To Go To War

Originally published on Sat April 20, 2013 4:25 pm

In 2001, Daniel Hodd was 17 and starting a promising career as a concert pianist. But he also wanted to become a U.S. Marine.

"At 3 years of age, you walked over to the piano, and you just started playing," Evelyn Hodd tells her son.

He played until he was 17 and performed in the Metropolitan Opera Theater. Juilliard offered him a scholarship. But Daniel decided to go to the military instead. He enlisted in 2002 and deployed to Iraq in 2003.

"That was devastating for me. And then, you had an accident," his mother says.

During training for his second deployment to Iraq in 2008, Daniel snapped three of his fingers in a vehicle door. He was told a broken finger would keep him from deploying.

"To hear that you can't deploy because of less that 1 inch piece of your body, just seemed absurd to me," he says. "And I had a couple dozen junior Marines who expected certain things of me. And I promised them I would get out there as soon as I could."

The specialist gave him two options, Daniel says: "You can either try some treatment plan, and you definitely won't deploy, or you just cut it off and you get on a plane."

"And I was like, 'Cut it off,' because ... I made a promise. I had to deploy," he says. "In some ways, that decision was difficult; in other ways it was one of the easiest decisions I've ever made."

Daniel says he would be a very different person if he had stuck with music school.

"But that's not a decision that I regret," he tells his mother. "I know that that hurt you, and I'm sorry."

But Evelyn Hodd says she's proud of Daniel, who's now a staff sergeant.

"The fact that you have given all to your country over what I wanted for you or even what you would've pursued — it says a lot for who you are," she says.

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Yasmina Guerda.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps and another chapter in our Military Voices Initiative, a project that brings us the stories of men and women who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan; and their families, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Daniel Hodd was 17 in 2001, looking forward to becoming a concert pianist. He also wanted to be a U.S. Marine. At StoryCorps, Daniel - now Staff Sgt. Hodd - sat down with his mother, Evelyn.

EVELYN HODD: At 3 years of age, you walked over to the piano, and you just started playing. And you played until you were around 17. You performed in the Metropolitan Opera Theater. And I thought you might take up Juilliard's offer. They had granted you half a scholarship. However, you had made a decision to go in the military. That was devastating for me. And then, you had an accident.

STAFF SGT. DANIEL HODD: Yeah. We were doing our pre-deployment training, and I walked up to one of the vehicles. And I went to open one of the doors, and the door just kind of snapped three fingers. So they sent me to a specialist. And they were like, you know your finger's broken, right? You can't deploy with a broken bone in your body.

To hear that you can't deploy because of less than 1-inch piece of your body, just seemed absurd to me. And I had a couple dozen junior Marines who expected certain things of me. And I promised them I would get out there as soon as I could. Ultimately, the specialist told me: You've got two options. You can either try some treatment plan, and you definitely won't deploy; or you just cut it off, and you get on a plane.

And I was like, cut it off - because, you know, I made a promise. I had to deploy. In some ways, that decision was difficult; in other ways, it was one of the easiest decisions I've ever made.

I would be a very different person today, I think, had I graduated from music school and not joined the Marine Corps. But that's not a decision that I regret. I know that that hurt you, and I'm sorry.

EVELYN HODD: Well, I am so awfully proud of you. You have no idea. The fact that you have given all to your country over what I wanted for you, or even what you would've pursued, it says a lot for who you are.

DANIEL HODD: Well, didn't give all. Many people gave a lot more. But thank you - and love you.

EVELYN HODD: Love you, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHAPSODY IN BLUE")

SIMON: That was Evelyn Hodd and her son Daniel, an Iraq War veteran and former concert pianist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHAPSODY IN BLUE")

SIMON: And that's Daniel you're hearing, playing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" from a 2001 performance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: His conversation with his mother was recorded in New York City, and is part of the Military Voices Initiative. Like all StoryCorps interviews, it is archived at the Library of Congress. To download the StoryCorps podcast, go to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.