In November of 1952, Royall Dodge found himself trudging through the cold Korean night looking for land mines to disarm.

Looking might not be the best term for his mission. Dodge and other members of the U.S. Army’s Combat Engineers were feeling for land mines, poking at the ground with their bayonets in the darkness.

The 22-year-old from East Boothbay heard a “pffft” sound, then a bang as shrapnel from the triggered mine exploded into the air. Two men were killed instantly, another died the next day. Shrapnel ripped into Dodge’s leg and face, and he lost most of the sight in his left eye.

Royall Dodge

An ambulance took him to a hospital near Seoul. From there, he was transferred to Japan, Hawaii, California and finally to Fort Devens in Massachusetts for physical rehabilitation. Only at this last spot did he learn that a cake – a sour milk birthday cake baked in Maine by his wife – had followed him the whole way.

His wife, Eleanor, had baked the cake months earlier in Boothbay Harbor and mailed it, hoping it would arrive in Korea by Dodge’s 23rd birthday on Jan. 13, 1953. She’d used sour milk, figuring that would make the cake hardier and more able to stand the long journey to the other side of the world.

As it turned out, the cake was hardy enough to travel to the other side of the world and back.

Through some sort of postal miracle, the cake went from its original destination in Korea to various other spots where military personnel thought Dodge might have been transferred. Finally, it caught up with him in Massachusetts.

“It was pretty well destroyed, the icing and all, but it made it and I was glad to see it,” said Dodge, now 88. “It was pretty much just crumbs.”

Dodge, who grew up in East Boothbay, started working at boat yards when he was 15. He remembers meeting Eleanor at a birthday party when they were both in their teens.

By the time he was drafted in April of 1951, they were already engaged. In June of 1952, just months before Dodge would ship out to Korea, he and Eleanor were married.

He got his orders to go to Korea, by way of Alaska, in early October. The land mine ripped through his leg less than two months later.

A combat engineer, Dodge was trained in building bridges and handling explosives. Land-mine detail called for probing the ground searching for wires and other evidence of buried mines.

“In the dark, that’s kind of hazardous,” Dodge said.

The night the land mine exploded, Dodge heard it but never saw it. He remembers lying on the ground in shock, wondering what happened. Medics bandaged his eyes – a piece of shrapnel had hit a tear duct in his left eye – and he wondered for a time if he would be able to see at all. To this day he can’t see much out of it, but his right eye is fine.

Dodge remembers a medic telling him that if he hadn’t been wearing a heavy flack jacket, “you wouldn’t be here right now.”

After his time in the service, Dodge became a master joiner, doing finish carpentry at several Boothbay-area boat yards. He and Eleanor have been married 66 years and have two grown daughters, as well as three grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

He’s been able to sample many more of Eleanor’s cakes in the intervening years, all in far better shape, but none more meaningful than the one that traveled the world to find him.

Recently, Dodge had a hip replacement and some back trouble, so he’s not doing as much as he’d like. He’s been renovating an old canoe, and hopes to get back to that soon.

Reflecting on his injury all those decades ago, he downplays what happened to him. Other soldiers, he noted, suffered far worse fates.

“I did my part, what little bit of it I could. Some fellas did a lot more than I did,” said Dodge. “I was lucky.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

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