EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series published every Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day in honor of local veterans. To nominate a veteran, email Metro Editor-in-Chief Marly Reichert at [email protected]
WARREN – Edgar Wood has said that driving a tank is â100% different from a semi-trailer. “
Wood’s more than 35-year career behind the wheel of a semi-trailer has earned him a gold plaque commemorating his millions of miles of safe driving. Before that, he spent two and a half years in Germany with the 36th Infantry, driving tanks and trucks, sleeping in tents in freezing cold, and jumping from planes.
Wood said the military taught him a valuable lesson: how to grow taller.
Wood, 77, enlisted in the military in February 1961, just before turning 17, though he claims to be 18 already. At the request of his girlfriend’s mother, he was late to finish high school at Warren G. Harding.
âIt was an experience. Right after graduation I left â, said Bois. âI volunteered because I wanted to do it right. My father was in the service. My brother was in the service. My close friend was at the service.
From Cleveland, Wood took a bus to Fort Knox, Ky. For basic training. He was classified as a specialist in small arms.
Wood went to Fort Benning in Georgia with the 7th Cavalry, Third Recon Platoon to train in the jungle, where he learned to live off the dirt. Georgia was separated. So even in uniform, Wood had to deal with a lack of respect outside the base, he said.
After returning home on leave, Wood was posted to Germany, where he would remain for the remainder of his active duty.
“I was in the CCB (combat command) company headquarters with the 2nd Battalion, 36th Infantry – it was a Ranger Battalion, but we just called it 36”, said Bois.
Germany has always been cold, said Wood. Yet he slept in a tent in the woods during the field maneuvers. His business was considered “aggressive” and harass other companies in their maneuvers, playing the enemy, he said.
Basically, Wood learned the discipline – for inspections, every crease had to be removed from pillow cases and boots, and the brass had to be impeccably shiny, Wood said.
While on duty, Wood was stationed at Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin.
“You would see young people trying to crawl over the wall to freedom, but they did not succeed” said Bois. âThey were shot. “
Wood drove two trucks and tanks. He said the older M60 tanks, which were not computerized like modern models, were “rough.”
âYou are in a piece of metal. There are five guys. You are in a confined space where you have to control the tank â, said Bois.
As a member of the airborne forces, Wood also jumped from planes over Germany.
On the weekends, Wood said he and other soldiers would go out to clubs and explore. The city of Frankfurt was a popular destination, as it had good nightclubs.
âIt was quite an experience there, because you had to learn the language if you wanted to do something. said Bois. âThe food was different. The way of life was different. For a youngster from the United States, it was a little weird.
Wood said there weren’t many blacks living in Germany at the time.
âYou have to remember that it is still 1962. That’s why a lot of blacks hung out with blacks. You say, ‘I have to learn a few words.’ How to ask for a drink. How to ask for water? said Bois. “I had this young man – he was Hispanic – he learned a lot, and he always dated us, and he spoke German.”
Wood said the Germans respected soldiers, in part because they contributed to local income – US dollars were worth more than German marks. The Germans worked at the base, shining shoes and doing laundry.
While the tanks passing through the city often tore up the cobblestone streets, that meant the streets were often repaved, Wood said.
Wood never returned to the United States while stationed in Germany, instead using his leave to travel to Europe.
Wood has fond memories of his time in service. He still has his uniform, his honorable discharge and a thick photo album. He keeps framed a favorite memory: a menu of a lunch of June 25, 1963 with US President John F. Kennedy.
âI had just turned 18. It was remarkable. They said, ‘Well, the president is coming.’ Next thing I know, my sergeant said you were elected to go to dinner with the president, â said Bois.
Only a few soldiers from each company were invited. Wood obtained “Ready” in her green dress and enjoyed grilled steaks and potatoes with the president.
A few months later, Kennedy was assassinated.
Wood was asked to re-enlist, but said he decided to return home to Warren to see if his high school girlfriend, Hortense, was still waiting for him. She was. They married in 1966 and have “I’ve been happy to have adventures together ever since.” They raised three daughters and now have four grandchildren.
“Well, we were lucky to have a lot of good years and family ties” said Bois.
Wood has spent much of his life driving. When he wasn’t driving for work, he and Hortense traveled all over the country – from Ohio to Atlanta to Houston to LA to Chicago, he said.
Passionate about sports, Wood loves the Browns and Indians and has met some great players. He also enjoys fishing and hunting, and has been active in the NAACP.
Of his time in the service, Wood said he âhad fond memories.
“We made sure to enjoy life” said Bois.
BRANCH OF SERVICE: Army, 1961-1963
MILITARY HONORS: Good Conduct Medal, Overseas Medal, Sniper Medal and M14 Expert
OCCUPATION: Semi-trailer driver
FAMILY: wife, Hortense Wood; three daughters, Kimberlee Wood, Bridget Ellery and Courtney Johnson; and four grandchildren