The Adventures of
David Brodie '42 has spent more than seven decades living with the throttle wide open. And despite a quadruple bypass operation, recent chemotherapy and several rounds of angiograms and angioplasty, Brodie reports that he works out and swims seven days a week at New York's Downtown Athletic Club and that he recently embarked on an ambitious and innovative plan to turn sludge from U.S. cities into fertilizer for Third World markets. One of his goals is to use the fertilizer to try to stem the expansion of the Sahara Desert in West Africa, and it's not the first time he's gotten involved in a grand international scheme.
In the fall of 1941, as a senior majoring in history and business at Colby, Brodie was drafted to serve in World War II. Given his academic worries-Brodie admits he was primarily focused on having a good time-the news came as a relief, he says. "At Colby I was paying too much attention to the girls and I knew I'd never make it so I refused my father's advice, which was to try to get a deferment."
Arrangements were made, credits from his military training were accepted and Brodie was able to march with his class at Commencement in 1942. He recalls fondly his four years in Waterville and tells colorful stories about an amorous and sometimes intemperate donkey he procured and managed as Colby's mascot. He also remembers small classes in professors' homes and cherished mentors, Professor of History William J. Wilkinson in particular. "He was fabulous," said Brodie. "He was a wonderful human being."
Just a week after his graduation, Brodie shipped out on an old World War I freighter that carried 7,000 tons of bombs for the Allies. The boat required 109 days to get from New York to Cairo, traveling through the Panama Canal, down the western coast of South America, across the southerly reaches of the Pacific Ocean and north to the Mediterranean, all in an attempt to avoid enemy ships and submarines. An amateur radio operator at Colby, Brodie got out of the infantry and into communications, serving in the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA). After brief duty in Egypt, he volunteered to go to Italy, where he oversaw construction of a radio station.
Brodie says his wartime adventures in Europe included communications work on torpedo boats in the Mediterranean, rescuing U.S. airmen and nurses from a downed airplane in Albania and setting up radio communications for the Tito government in Yugoslavia. When he got in trouble with a general in Italy he headed back to Cairo. He requested duty in China, where he says he helped establish another radio station. A letter written by Brodie in 1945 to his mother and father said: "My impression of China is that these are the most brilliant and resilient people I have ever met, and God forbid the day we cross swords with them."
After some hair-raising experiences flying around Asia in bombers and C-47 transports he shipped back to the U.S. and ended his service on Catalina Island off California, where he says he trained Koreans for a covert mission to set up marker beacons designed to help American pilots navigate over Japan. The atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender by the Japanese made the mission unnecessary, he says.
Upon his discharge from the service the OSS asked him whether, in time of national emergency, he would prefer to serve in civilian dress or in uniform. "I replied with one word-neither," Brodie said.
After the war Brodie went to work in the steamship brokerage business and started his own company, J.C. Hampton Co. Inc., where he worked until he retired in 1985. Since then he has become increasingly concerned about the effects of urban sewage dumped offshore and about the amount of money New York City spends to take care of its sludge. Brodie recalled seeing Asians use "night soil"-human waste-for fertilizer and remembered his father's method of using the sun to extract potash from Dead Sea water in Palestine when Brodie was a boy. Combining those practices, Brodie hopes to test his method for producing fertilizer from solar-dried American sludge and has drafted a proposal to use the technique in the African desert. He wants to use the product on African forests that are now threatened by the expansion of the Sahara Desert. Besides the environmental benefit of keeping sludge out of the ocean, he says, the practice could cut in half U.S. cities' costs for disposing of sewage.
Brodie lives on South End Avenue in New York, a block from the Hudson River, the river that both launched his journey in 1942 and sustained his career built on steamships. Though his globe-trotting days are now behind him, at age 74 Brodie is still thinking-and acting-globally.
50-Plus Class Notes/Table of Contents/The Forties Class Notes