They say that history has a way of linking events together and repeating itself. In 1809, the first Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy, William Maxwell Wood, was born. In honor of his accomplishments, USS William M. Wood was named after him. The destroyer launched on July 29, 1945, just in time to catch the tail end of World War II.
Over a century after the Surgeon General, a different William M. Wood would make his mark on the world as a Pearl Harbour and World War II survivor. Would you like to know more about him?
In 1922, William M. Wood was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and grew up as a local boy. His father was originally from Canada and worked at Dole Hawaiian Pineapple Company as a division executive. His mother’s family was English. During his high school years at ‘Iolani, Wood developed an interest in electronics.
His skills would land him a job as a civilian radio/electronics technician in Shop 51 at the Pearl Harbour Naval Shipyard, just after graduation in 1941. The events that followed 4 months later would change his life.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. John C Garver
PEARL HARBOR STORY
The USS Shaw (DD-373) was drydocked at Pearl Harbour on the morning of December 7, 1941. The 18 year old Wood had been dispatched to the USS Shaw and had just started his 12-hour shift working inside the bow. Then, the unexpected attack from the Japanese planes ensued.
In an interview with Staff Sgt. John Garver, Wood remembers, “…we were in absolute shock when the explosions were going off and the Navy ships had all their alarms going and demanding that the crew get to battle stations, etc.”
The unfortunate consequence of being near the USS Nevada battleship was that the USS Shaw was hit by 3 bombs dropped by the second wave of Japanese planes. The forward portion of the ship took the brunt of the impact, with 2 of the bombs going through the magazine gun platform. Fires were running rampant despite efforts to control them and the order to abandon the sinking ship was given around 9:25 am.
Just 5 minutes later, there was a huge explosion and Wood recalls, “…somehow the bow on the USS Shaw was blown off and that’s why we were able to escape that.” Wood was lucky to be among the few to escape from the Shaw that day.
During the aftermath, he assisted with clean-up efforts, fighting fires and trying to help the survivors. He continued to work in the electric shop.
POST PEARL HARBOR ATTACK
Around March of 1942, Wood enlisted with the Army, feeling a duty to serve his country and to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbour.
“They needed us, the country needed us. I had friends killed at Pearl Harbour, and I just felt that I had a duty, so I went across the fence to Hickam, raised my right hand and said I do,” Wood declared.
He was admitted to the aviation cadet program and was sent to California to train as a pilot. Woods would go on to fly a B-29, piloting missions all over the world – India, China, Burma, Singapore, Greenland, and so on. He participated in the bombing raids that nearly burnt down Tokyo near the end of World War II.
Wood stayed in the Air Force serving in many capacities and commands over the years, including being a test pilot. His military career ended in Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana with his 1964 retirement from the Strategic Air Command (SAC). He reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. John C Garver
After his retirement, Wood made Bellingham, Washington his permanent home. For over 60 years, he did not return to the islands. When he finally got the chance in March of 2015, he was amazed at the development.
Of course, a tour of Pearl Harbour was on the agenda. Major General Edward Dorman, III, Commanding General of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command escorted Wood to the USS Arizona Memorial.
History is not about wars and memorizing names and dates; it’s about the people who make a difference, the ones that do something to change history. Wood got a chance to share his story with ‘Iolani students, providing the future generation with an important link to the past.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I don’t think I’ve done anything exceptional. I think that most of the military people feel that way,” said Wood during the interview with Staff Sargent John Garver.
William M. Wood, you are exceptional and have earned your place in history. Thank you for your service.