December 7, 1941 was one of the most horrible and tragic days in American history. A total of 2,335 American military personnel were killed when Japan pulled off a successful sneak attack against the U.S. Navy fleet based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Forever, it will be known as the nation's "day of infamy."
The nation's tragedy became a personal tragedy that hit home hard in hundreds of cities, small towns and rural areas all around the country as families learned their sons were among those making the ultimate sacrifice as peacetime became wartime in an instant. Jackson County and Vinton County were not spared. Jackson resident Frank Wood, Oak Hill area resident Paul Staton and Radcliff resident Bryce Boring were listed among the Pearl Harbor death toll. Wood and Boring were U.S. Navy shipmates on the ill-fated USS Oklahoma battleship while U.S. Army member Staton was killed on land at nearby Hickam Air Base.
To worsen the tragedy, many families were not able to recover the bodies of their loved ones, including the 429 men who went down with the USS Oklahoma. When the battleship was finally righted and salvaged in 1943, only 35 of the victims could be identified. A total of 388 other bodies, Wood and Boring among them, were classified as "unidentified" and were ultimately buried in anonymous graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Thanks to modern science, the situation for Frank Wood and his family finally changed in 2015 when a casket containing comingled remains from the Oklahoma was exhumed. The Navy contacted Wood's closest remaining relatives, niece Jill O. Overly Lee of Franklin, North Carolina, and nephew, Jack R. Overly of Estes Park, Colorado, who submitted DNA samples for testing.
As a result, Wood's remains were later identified, giving his family the opportunity to give him a burial in a marked grave, in a location of his family's choosing and with the proper honors being bestowed to him. Consequently, the remains of Frank Wood will be buried this Saturday in Franklin, North Carolina, which is located in the picturesque Great Smoky Mountains.
Lee spoke with WLOS-TV of Ashville, North Carolina saying that identifying him and being able to bury him in the family plot outside Franklin will bring closure.
Lee was a young girl in 1941 but remembers learning of her uncle's death from her mother.
"Mom was crying over it and everything. I mean, it was terrible. Think about it. Think about being in a ship and you can't get out," she told WLOS-TV. "It was awful."
For years, the family took solace in pictures and Wood's medals, including his Purple Heart. But Lee's son said there was still a hollow feeling without having his body to bury. Now, with his remains identified, it will help fill that empty spot with a dignified service.
Wood's family will receive friends from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. this Saturday at Macon Funeral Home with a service and burial at Carson Cemetery at 2 p.m.
The identification of Frank Wood's body has become national news during the past week. An Associated Press news story was picked up by many newspapers across the country, including The New York Times, The New York Daily News, and closer to Jackson, The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Meanwhile, the remains of Bryce Boring finally made it back to Vinton County and were buried at Bowen Cemetery with full military honors on August 6, 2016. He also received special recognition at an earlier ceremony conducted by the Vinton County Historical and Genealogical Society.
Staton, who remains buried in the National Military of the Pacific, received local recognition on the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack from Oak Hill Historical Society (OHS) member Brian Moore on the OHS Facebook page in December 2016. That information was the basis for a follow-up column in The Telegram.
Not surprisingly, the deaths of the local servicemen at Pearl Harbor was front-page news back in Jackson County.
The Jackson Connection
The following information was included in Frank Wood's belated obituary recently, released by the Macon Funeral Home in Franklin, North Carolina:
"Frank Wood was born in Jackson, Ohio on Nov. 16, 1916 of parents Ora and Mamie Wood. He had two sisters, Oden Wood Overly and Chella Wood Roshong.
"Frank attended school in Jackson and grew up as a fun-loving young man who delighted in joking with and teasing his younger niece, Jill, and nephews Jack, Jerry, Philip, and Buckie. Those were Depression years and work was difficult to obtain. As a result, Frank joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was sent to Idaho where he worked for some time. Later, before joining the U.S. Nay, he worked in Toledo at the Toledo Country Club.
"Frank decided that he wanted a career in the Navy, but initially could not make the weight requirement. He spent weeks trying to gain weight and eventually was given a weight waiver as he could not get above 124 pounds. He was finally enlisted in the Navy on July 24, 1940 and underwent training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. He reported for duty aboard the USS Oklahoma on October 12, 1940."
Less than 14 months later, Frank Wood was dead, a small part of the grim history which occurred at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, a date which President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously and accurately described as "a date which will live in infamy."
Not surprisingly, Frank Wood's tragic death at Pearl Harbor was front-page news back in Jackson. One of the leading purveyors and guardians of local historical information, Lillian Jones Museum Director Megan Malone was able to find two newspaper stories on Frank Wood's death, dated Dec. 30, 1941 in the two Jackson newspapers of the time, The Jackson Sun-Journal and The Jackson Herald. There was a delay in the local reporting because Mr. and Mrs. Wood were visiting in Toledo when they first received the terrible news about their son. One of those stories stated that Frank was also known by the nickname of "Pud".
Since no known relatives of the Frank Wood family remain in the Jackson area and it's likely been 50 or more years since any Wood family members still lived in Jackson, The Telegram could find only very limited local information about the family.
Two well-known local women, who grew up in Jackson and who are still Jackson residents, Alana Billman and Nancy Brammer, grew up in the same neighborhood as the Frank Wood family on Jackson's northeast side. They never knew Frank personally, but Billman remembers him being referred to as "Frankie Dean".
Both women told The Telegram that they remember Frank's parents, Ora and Mamie. Brammer recalls that the Woods lived in a house on Coffman Street on the northeast corner of Coffman and West streets. They both believe Ora and Mamie continued to live there into their senior-citizen years. Billman feels they lived in that same house until at least the early 1960s. Neither woman remembers when and where either of the parents died or where they are buried.
Oddly, Brammer and Billman both have the same distant memory of Mamie Wood. They recall that she was constantly out in front of the house sweeping leaves, dirt and debris into the gutter. Billman recalls that Mrs. Wood would often wistfully talk about her dead son and that the hurt of losing him stuck with her.
"She seemed to take it really hard," Billman related. "It would be terrible to lose your child, and especially like that." Brammer remembers seeing the Gold Star in the Woods' window, which signified Mrs. Wood was a mother who had a son or daughter killed in service to the U.S. armed forces.
Many, many years later, a mother's tears will be transferred to others this Saturday afternoon when Frank Wood is laid to rest for the very last time in the North Carolina mountains.