On November 11, more than 200 people gathered at Presbyterian Village North (PVN), a nonprofit senior living community in Dallas, to commemorate the sacrifices made by our nation’s veterans. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Census, there are 18.2 million veterans in the United States. Of these millions of veterans, is it estimated that a mere 496,777 are veterans who served during WWII. Understanding the crucial importance of capturing their stories, PVN selected resident Arthur Wood to be the keynote speaker of this year’s Veterans Day celebration, which was held on Monday, November 11 at 11:00 a.m. The ceremony took place in the auditorium at PVN, located at 8600 Skyline Drive. Wood served as an artilleryman alongside General Patton in Germany and France. Several veterans will be in attendance to hear him recount his WWII experience, including fellow WWII veteran Bob Ekblad, who served as a deck officer in the Navy.
“General Patton and I won the war in Europe, though we did not arrive until 100 days after D-Day. We arrived on September 14, 1944,” said Wood. “There were three divisions – two divisions accompanied Patton at the Battle of the Bulge, and I was with the division that was lined up on the Saar River. Our goal was to take over the 21-mile front in Lorraine, France. For starters, our infantry battalion completed a crucial river crossing by motorboat, firing machine guns at the enemy the whole time. We used a Bailey bridge to open up the territory to the 10th Army and made it easier for them to cross the Moselle. We had constant contact with the enemy for 105 days before we were pulled out of the frontlines. Because of our efforts, 400,000 German soldiers were captured.”
Wood and fellow soldiers served in Europe for 10 months. They slept in bedrolls and navigated by foot from one German town to the next. Sometimes they took over wrecked houses, other times it was old barns. Building tents and campsites were too obvious, so they did what they could to blend in. Food, artillery and gasoline were brought to Germany from the United States via freighters that managed to get past the German U-boats. The freighters would get as close to land as they could, and the supplies were then loaded on trucks or planes and delivered to the troops. Each division found places for cooks to set up to prepare meals, and they were often stationed in old barns. These men had breakfast ready by the time the soldiers woke up and brought food up again after dark. Wood says the roles of the cooks and transportation of goods were just as important as those serving on the frontlines.
“As we took over each German town, the civilians assisted us in getting acclimated to the land, showing us which fields to dig up, where the prisoners were being held and which railroad tracks and vessels had bombs attached to them. The Nazis were destroying Germany, but with the help of the civilians, we put a stop to that. If they were not a Nazi, they were typically either captured or shot, so it’s no surprise they aided our efforts. At the end of the war, we took over concentration camps. It was a murderous operation, and I’m glad we put an end to it.”
A couple years ago, Wood took an Honor Flight with fellow veterans. When they landed at the airport and got off the plane, they were easily recognized for being WWII veterans because of the jackets they wore, and a group of students from a Jewish High School applauded them as they made their way off the plane. Having spent the entire day touring the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., these students had gained an understanding of the brutality of WWII. Wood overheard as their teacher said, “These are the men who stopped the Holocaust.” Wood was touched and reminded of his sacrifices and the importance of serving during a crucial and meaningful time in world history.
“After being a part of such a horrific part of history, it felt good to come home and return to normalcy,” said Wood. “Thankfully, my brother and I did not suffer from any psychological problems as a result of the war. Looking back, it is a rewarding feeling knowing that I was a part of the greater good that made this world a safer place to live.”
While Wood was in Germany when the war ended, Ekblad was aboard the USS Kittson, which was anchored in Guam awaiting orders to land troops on the Japanese mainland when President Harry Truman released orders to drop the atomic bombs.
“The drop of the atomic bombs called off our plan of hitting the Japanese beaches,” said Ekblad. “After the war in the Pacific ended, we were assigned the task of bringing soldiers home. These men didn’t want to talk about what they experienced – they didn’t recount stories, and no one was playing hero. There was a quiet sense of relief now that the war was over, and people could return to their homes and families.”
Ekblad served in the Navy for three years. For the first six months he was in training, but the rest of the time he spent at sea. His schooling took place in Princeton, Hollywood and San Diego. He later became a Lieutenant Junior Grade on a troop transport ship and spent two and a half years serving in the Pacific Theater. His vessel and most other vessels had smoke generating equipment to disguise their location during Japanese flyovers. Ekblad’s ship experienced one such flyover, and thankfully the smoke kept them hidden, and the planes did not drop any bombs on their position.
Prior to serving in Europe, Wood served at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for a year and a half training recruits and officers who had been in the reserves. He was then transferred to the 95th Infantry Division at Fort Sam Houston where he served as a battery commander for the first nine months while also training recruits. He served for four and a half years in total.
“There are 109 veterans living at PVN and 12 veterans working at PVN, and we are so privileged to hear accounts of their service,” said Bryan Cooper, executive director of Presbyterian Village North. “We were honored that Arthur Wood agreed to be this year’s keynote speaker, and know that fellow veterans, such as Bob Ekblad, appreciated his speech. There was plenty of reminiscing this Veterans Day to be sure. It is so important to showcase our appreciation for our country’s veterans because they made many sacrifices so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.”