World War II MIA from Valdosta finally accounted for

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May 28—VALDOSTA — The telegram from the War Department was delivered to Gertrude Wood in Valdosta on Aug. 12, 1943. It undoubtedly broke her heart.

"I REGRET TO INFORM YOU REPORT RECEIVED STATES YOUR SON STAFF SERGEANT WILLIAM O WOOD MISSING IN ACTION SINCE ONE AUGUST IN THE MIDDLE EASTERN AREA ..."

Nearly 80 years passed before Wood's family received some word on his fate.

Earlier this month, with Memorial Day approaching, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said William Oscar Wood had been "accounted for."

Details on Wood's death have not been made public yet as the family has not yet received a full briefing from the Army, said Sgt. 1st Class Sean P. Everette with the DPAA.

Born in Tifton April 19, 1919, Wood was the son of Alonzo and Gertrude Wood.

In 1940, he was 22 and living in Valdosta with his father, mother, brother Joseph and five sisters — Louise, Alice, Ernestine, Virginia and Shirley, census data shows. When he registered for the draft that year, he was working for Manly Construction Company, according to his draft records.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces — the predecessor to the modern Air Force — and was a tailgunner assigned to the 93rd Bomber Group, 328th Bomber Squadron.

On Aug. 1, 1943, Wood's B-24D Liberator, Hell's Wench, was part of Operation Tidal Wave, the largest bombing mission against the oil fields and refineries at Plolesti, north of Bucharest, Romania, according to the American Air Museum in Britain. The Romanian oil fields were a vital source of energy for Germany's Third Reich and a major target for the Allied powers; altogether, 53 aircraft and 660 air crewmen were lost in Tidal Wave.

A disastrous wrong turn that led many of the bombers away from Ploesti broke up the attacking bombers' formation.

Three miles from the target, while attacking other available sites, Hell's Wench was damaged by enemy ground fire, setting the entire plane ablaze; nonetheless, the crew managed to release their bombs. They tried to gain altitude so the crew could bail out but the fire became so intense that Hell's Wench crashed, killing everyone on board, according to the American Air Museum.

Wood's remains were not identified following the war. Unidentified remains were buried as "unknowns" in the Hero Section of the Civilian and Military Cemetery of Bolovan, Ploiesti, Prahova, Romania, the DPAA said.

His honors included the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart.

In the War Department's 1946 Honor List of Dead and Missing, Wood is listed as "FOD" — shorthand for "finding of death," meaning he was declared dead in the absence of a recovered body.

Wood was memorialized on the Tablets of the Unknown, which lists 1,409 names of missing servicemen, at the Florence American Cemetery in Italy.

MEMORIAL DAY SERVICES

American Legion Post 13 will hold its Memorial Day ceremony 10 a.m. Monday, May 30, at Sunset Hill Cemetery on North Oak Street, Valdosta. In case of rain, the ceremonies will be held at American Legion Post 13, 1301 Williams St., Valdosta.

Terry Richards is senior reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times.