photo_ft_news_joseph wood 2_111120.JPG

Lt. Col. Joseph Wood, who fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, holds a picture of himself taken in 1945 when he was 20 years old, at his home in Delaplane. 

photo_ft_news_joseph wood_111120.png

Lt. Col. Joseph Wood

Joseph Lowell Wood was born on March 15, 1925, in Lubbock, Texas. He was one of five siblings and grew up with four half-sisters from his father’s first wife, who died of the Spanish flu. 

“My father was just a guy in a cotton patch,” Wood said. On Sundays he would attend church; his interest in sermons led to a life of pastoring. “He continued being a pastor throughout my military career,” said Wood. 

At only 17 years old, Wood could not wait to join the U.S. Army. “I wasn’t 18 and they wouldn’t talk to me,” he said. He went to college for one year and then enlisted in the Army as World War II approached. “They sent me to the Army Navy Hospital in Arkansas where I spent a year and then I went to Camp Barkeley, Texas, for medical training,” said Wood.  

After medic training, Wood was sent overseas in 1944 by way of the Panama Canal and around to San Jose, California. “The first action I saw was in New Guinea. I was with a replacement outfit and they didn’t have room for us, so we stayed on deck.”  

Wood was with the 25th Division; he would remain with them until the end of the war.  

“We were on the ship when they dropped the big one on Nagasaki [on Aug. 9,1945],” said Wood. “We stayed on that ship for 60 days packing ammo, tanks and gasoline. We all knew what would happen if our ship was hit by fire.” 

At the end of World War II, Wood recalled the USS Missouri being fitted for the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. “They worked on the ship for days, building platforms for personnel to stand on. You wouldn’t even have recognized it.”  

Wood was not among the military personnel invited to attend the treaty signing but recalls the radio and television broadcasts that aired. “We had all that set up for us. It was quite a day. People were up all night working on it. There were a lot of people on that ship together that hated each other.”  

“They turned us loose in ’45. I came home in ’46, that’s how long it took to get home, and I went to Oklahoma University. That’s where I was when they drafted the 25th Division again.”  

This time, Wood headed to Korea. 

“All the states in the union contributed to the cause [in Korea]. We loaded up the 45th Division in Oklahoma [part of the Oklahoma National Guard] and made our way to New Orleans, along with everyone else. It was a sight on the roads. We tied up a lot of traffic and some days couldn’t move at all. We boarded the ship in New Orleans and passed through Panama and made our way around to San Francisco; that must have taken 40 days,” Wood recalled. “I was web-footed, I was on that ship for so long,” he added. 

While serving in Korea, Wood met a fellow infantryman named James Bumgarner, who would later change his last name to Garner. Over the course of their service in Korea, they became friends. “Garner was a good man,” said Wood. “I could tell you stories about him.”  

The two infantrymen shared a state room together on their return trip home following the war. “He asked me to go out to Hollywood with him and become an actor,” said Wood. “But I told him to go on, I was staying in.”  

Garner did go to Hollywood where he found success as an actor. Wood and Garner remained friends until Garner died in 2014.  

Wood served two tours in Vietnam as well. “I was in Vietnam for 131 days,” he said.  

Near the end of the Vietnam War, Wood was part of the of the clean-out crew responsible for destroying American intelligence. He was ordered to leave nothing behind of importance. On the wall hung a Budweiser beer poster of the iconic Clydesdale horses and wagon. While under fire from Viet Cong, Wood went back in to pull the poster from the wall, “They aren’t getting it,” he said. It hung on the wall of Wood’s barn for 30 years. Today, his close friend Clyde Simpson has the poster hanging in his home.   

Wood recalled his own personal day from hell. What he described as his worst day in Vietnam was the day they lost three helicopters. They also lost two pilots and three other men who were killed, execution-style, by Viet Cong.  

“We were instructed to do the helicopters in if they were hit,” said Wood of the white phosphorus that hung in every helicopter. “We always gave it a wide berth.” White phosphorus is pyrophoric and self-ignites on contact with air.  

A chopper was hit, and the pilot fumbled the white phosphorous. “He dropped it and got white phosphorous on himself.” Highly flammable, the pilot went up in flames. Wood’s helicopter was still 5 feet off the ground when he jumped from it with nothing more than a fire extinguisher to help the burning pilot, who was engulfed in flames.  

The scene remained under heavy Viet Cong fire. Wood reached the pilot and began to roll him on the ground. “When I finally got him in the helicopter, I kept working with the fire extinguisher on him. I would have him wrapped up and when I unwrapped him, he would begin to smoke again,” said Wood who continued to douse the pilot with antifreeze. Wood’s men covered him while he worked on the pilot.  

“That was my worst day in Vietnam. We sure didn’t deserve what we got that day,” said Wood.  

The pilot Wood saved was treated for extensive burns over his legs. He recovered and lived another 30 years. Wood was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the president of the United States for his actions that day. 

Wood served a total of 33 years in the military and begged to stay in. “They wouldn’t let me,” he said. He went on to manage the Virginia Army National Guard recruitment office in Warrenton. 

Today, Wood lives at his home of more than 40 years in Delaplane. The historic home is as steeped in history as its occupant. He rests among the antique colonial pieces acquired throughout the years. Summer breezes pass through the windows; birds, insects and butterflies make their homes among the gardens tended by his wife of four decades. From his bed, Wood conjures memories long forgotten. “I haven’t thought about all this in a long time,” he said.  

 
 

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.