World War II veteran and POW survivor Donald L. Wood has been named grand marshal for Maysville’s Fourth of July Parade.
Wood, an attorney and partner in the Fox, Wood, Wood and Estill firm, and said he enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was 17 years old. He said he was enlisted as a volunteer rather than a draftee.
After enlisting, Wood was placed in an infantry division, which he said was the worst place on Earth to be.
“We went to Fort Benning and took our basic training there,” Wood said, “then I was assigned to the 106th Division, 422nd Regiment.”
After being shipped overseas, Wood and his regiment stayed in England for a while. The regiment was then sent to take the place of three combat divisions stationed at the Maginot-Siegfried Line in 1944.
“We were out there for a couple of months when this big battle (Battle of the Bulge) occurred where the Germans put everything they had,” Wood said. “We had nothing, we had no bazookas, we had no artillery to back us up. All we had were rifles, and they don’t fight tanks too well.”
Wood said from the relative mountains where he was located, he could see the enemy force lumbering its way towards their position.
“We could look to the, probably south, and see these thousands of German tanks, horses and vehicles of all sorts, but we had nothing to shoot them with, so we just sat there,” he said. “They didn’t go through us, they went around us and circled us and there we sat.”
Obviously he and his comrades had to get out of there, Wood said. The regiment set out to meet an armored outfit nearby for support.
“We walked for two days and we got there alright, but they had been wiped out,” he said, referring to the armored regiment, “so it didn’t do us any good to get there was the question of what we were going to do next.”
Some members of the group decided to split up, though Wood said they had no idea where they were going or what they would do when they got to their destination. After finding themselves in a patch of forest, Wood’s group came across some tanks.
“Some officer, of what may have been left, there weren’t many officers left, said ‘don’t worry, they’re ours,’” Wood said. “Well they weren’t ours.”
One member of the group’s company, according to Wood, opened fire on the tanks, which caused the tank to retaliate. Wood’s group scattered from the trees.
“I got so far, and I don’t know what happened to the rest of them,” he said, “I know one went one way and I guess everybody went somewhere. Of course here come the tanks, and of course behind the tanks was a squad of infantry behind the tanks.”
With very few options, Wood hid in a tank track filled with water, keeping a nostril up to breathe. The plan worked, as the tank rolled by him. A member of the infantry behind the tank, however, managed to find Wood.
“He was very young,” he said, “one boy that picked me up was probably 15-16 years old. He said ‘you’re going to play soldier anymore?’ I said ‘no, I won’t.’”
Wood was now a prisoner of war of the Germans. He said he and the other captives were divided into groups and forced to march. Wood said shrapnel hit his leg, which he wasn’t aware of until after his adrenaline subsided, which made the marching difficult for him.
“We started walking and we would walk each day to a camp or some outfit where there would be a barn or where everybody would be,” he said. “That went on for five months. We wouldn’t stay anyplace for more than a day or two, and then take off again. We ended up walking all the way through Germany into Poland.”
Wood said the Russian army was heading in their direction, which caused them to march south into what was then Czechoslovakia. The more the Russians closed in, the more Wood and the other prisoners had to move. After spending so long as a prisoner, his physical health no doubt suffered — he is over 6 feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds.
“The whole problem with being a prisoner of war at that time was food,” Wood said. “The Germans didn’t have any food themselves, but they had more than we did. All we had was turnip soup or sugar beet soup, whatever it was. It was water, boiled, with sugar beets in it.”
Wood was eventually liberated by allied forces, and was flown to England and spent a month in the hospital. He was then shipped back home to America to further recuperate and was finally discharged in December of 1945.
Looking back on his experience and talking about what he endured doesn’t bother him. Wood seems to have made apparent peace with the ordeal and almost makes light of his sacrifice to his county, as does much of his generation — often called the Greatest Generation.
The Independence Day parade is set to get underway at 7:30 p.m., with line-up at 7 p.m. on East Second Street under the train trestle.