Before he died, Peter J. Dodd volunteered for an important and potentially dangerous mission.
While serving in the Korean War on July 21, 1953, Dodd decided to answer a call for soldiers willing to cross over into enemy territory in an effort to recover any notes from commanders, codebooks or other pieces of intelligence that may prove valuable to U.S. forces.
Dodd’s nephew, Tom Martell, says his Uncle Peter’s mission proved successful.
Unfortunately, he said, his Uncle Peter was killed by enemy fire after he returned to his home base.
“He volunteered to run through an artillery and mortar barrage to recover this stuff and he did recover it and he made it back to safety before he was hit by an artillery round,” Martell said.
Dodd, a Niagara Falls native, died just three days from his 21st birthday and just six days before the official end of hostilities in the Korean War. His loss was especially difficult for Martell’s mom, Elaine Martell, who lost her only brother that day.
In recognition of his sacrifice, Dodd received 13 military service commendations, including the Silver Star, which is the third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat and which is awarded in recognition of “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.” His family also received letters in recognition of his service from three U.S. presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon Johnson.
Martell said his uncle’s letter from Eisenhower was personally signed by “Ike,” which is a point of pride for the family to this day.
A military veteran himself, Martell said he remains awestruck by his uncle’s sacrifice. He said it really hit him while he was rummaging through some of his uncle’s belongings from the war more than a decade ago now.
“It was 2006 when I just looking through his trunk and looking at all of this,” said Martell, referring to the reminders of his uncle’s life. “Being a veteran, it just hits you.”
Martell says his uncle’s story is more interesting to him because, technically, due to his physical condition, Peter Dodd could have accepted a deferment. Dodd, who graduated with honors from Niagara Falls High School, suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident when he was a young man which could have kept him from serving. As Martell noted, his uncle went to war anyway because he felt “called upon” to do so.
For years now, Martell has made it his own mission of sorts to make sure Dodd’s legacy lives on. He has written several letters to U.S. presidents and other officials in hopes of obtaining additional recognition for his uncle’s service.
He said he sent one letter to the office of President Barack Obama but did not get a response.
While watching the Republican National Convention earlier this year, he said he saw a picture of Vice President Mike Pence’s father who served in Korea as a member of the 45th infantry division and it inspired him to write to President Donald Trump as well.
So far, he said, he has not received a response from Trump’s administration.
Martell believes the reason for the lack of responses has had less to do with lack of interest and likely more to do with the high volume of similar inquiries.
“Am I expecting anything? No. There’s thousands of brave men who died for this country,” he said.
Martell said he keeps trying because his uncle’s death because he knows his mom - Peter’s sister - appreciates it whenever her brother’s service and sacrifice is acknowledged.
“This was her only brother,” Martell said. “He was the only Dodd. It ended a bloodline.”
“My whole goal was just to give my mother - she’s 86 - just some final thoughts on her brother and maybe that his death was for something good,” Martell added.
Earlier this year, Martell decided to submit a request through email to the office of Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino.
To his pleasant surprise, he got an almost immediate response.
“I sent the letter at like 3 a.m. on a Sunday and like 8 a.m on a Monday, his secretary called said he’d like to schedule an appointment,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t need to see him. I’m not looking for a parade.’ He made the time. He cleared the time. He was really polite. His father served in Korea. He didn’t die, but he knew where I was coming from.”
In an Oct. 1 letter to Martell’s mother, Restaino noted that, as mayor, part of his responsibility involves recognizing individuals within the community that have conducted their lives in a way that makes all city residents proud to call Niagara Falls their home.
In his letter, Restaino took note of Dodd’s service and sacrifice during what is often referred to as “The Forgotten War” and said he hoped Elaine Martell took solace in knowing that Dodd’s hometown remembered him and remains grateful to him.
“I have come to learn that you are Peter’s sister and I am sure that your time together growing up on East Falls Street still brings back great and fond memories,” Restaino wrote. “Based on what I have learned, Pfc. Dodd served heroically and honorably, and as a Silver Star recipient a grateful nation recognized his valor and bravery in battle. While he was taken from you and your mother, Leona, in battle on July 21, 1953, and the city lost a great son, he is not forgotten. I wanted to personally acknowledge to you, as his surviving sister, that his brave, dedicated and heroic actions on the Korean battlefield are not lost on his hometown and the city he loved.”
Martell said he greatly appreciated the mayor’s kind letter about his uncle and thanked him for going out of his way to recognize his sacrifice. While she got emotional hearing the mayor’s words, Martell said his mom was grateful, too.
“She was proud when I read her and showed her the letter, but then she cried that whole night, but she was fine the next day,” he said.
“We couldn’t have been treated better,” Dodd added.