Sacramento businessman Gary Wood has learned that residents of a small French village, who tried to shelter his father after his B-17 crew was shot down there as 1943 drew to a close, have established a memorial to the 10-man crew.
Four of the airmen were killed, and Wood's father – Jack R. Wood, who came home after the war to co-found what is now Wood Brothers Floor Covering – was injured so badly that the French also list him on the memorial as having died of his wounds.
His father died at age 87 in 2009 after a long career in contracting and real estate.
"I'll have to set them straight," said Gary Wood, 60, one of five children born to Jack and Ardean Wood after the war. "They knew how badly he was hurt. His jaw was shattered, and he had a nicked carotid artery.
"I have to go see the memorial. I might be able to see the farmhouse they took him to after he parachuted from the plane. That would be something."
His father was a Grant High School graduate, a 20-year-old second lieutenant and bombardier on a four-engine bomber called "Stinky Weather," based in England. After a successful mission to bomb a German airfield outside Bordeaux, the B-17 was hit by flak on its return flight.
Wood was already bleeding heavily from his injuries when the crew strapped him into a parachute to jump to safety.
He landed in a field outside Kerbors en Bellevue, Brittany, not far from the English Channel. As Wood told his daughter, Mary Wood, in an oral history she compiled, when his rescuers summoned a doctor, German soldiers followed him to the farmhouse where he was hidden.
They took him prisoner. He recuperated for several months in a German military hospital in Paris, then spent the remainder of the war in a series of prisoner-of-war camps.
"He escaped toward the end of the war," said Gary Wood. "The Germans were losing. They were marching prisoners from one camp to another. And he escaped."
Miriam Post's father, Sgt. John J. Gilson Jr., was also a crew member on the B-17. He initially escaped capture with the help of the Resistance but was eventually caught and sent to prison camp.
Post lives in Tennessee and learned about the memorial only two months ago, after a nephew ran across information about it online. She has been in touch with the memorial's organizers, who hold a ceremony in the crew's honor every May.
"I'm so thrilled about this," said Post. "None of the families knew about the memorial until now. A bunch of us are planning to go next year to the ceremony."
Gary Wood said his father didn't hesitate to talk about his wartime experiences. He underwent surgery after the war to reconstruct his right jaw.
"They grew up quickly during the war," said Wood. "One of the guys who died that day was his best friend. They were away from home for the first time. They were working together. They knew there was a chance they could die.
"They were doing what was right for their country, and they became brothers."