WWII airman from Wichita Falls finally identified

After 80 years and multiple failed ID attempts, Jack Wood can be laid to rest.
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 5:48 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (KAUZ) - It took almost 80 years and the stubborn determination of several patriotic organizations, but a 24-year-old airman has finally been returned home.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced on Tuesday that the remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Jack K. Wood had been accounted for, almost 80 years after he was killed in action during World War II.

Life and Military Service

Born in Lawton in 1919, Wood attended Wichita Falls schools and worked in town before enlisting in the Air Corps in 1940. He was assigned to the 344th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) of the 98th Bombardment Group (Heavy) in the 9th Air Force. At 24 years old, Wood served as the flight navigation leader on a B-24 Liberator aircraft nicknamed the “Vulgar Virgin.”

U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Jack K. Wood had been accounted for, almost 80 years after he was...
U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Jack K. Wood had been accounted for, almost 80 years after he was killed in action during World War II.(DPAA)

Wood volunteered for the mission that would be his last, feeling that he needed to do more for his country despite already having been awarded several medals for his participation in combat. He wrote to his sister back in Wichita Falls four days before his death, explaining that he was volunteering for a dangerous mission: “I am qualified to be relieved without further fighting, but I don’t think I’ve done enough.”

On Aug. 1, 1943, Wood and his compatriots launched an attack as part of Operation TIDAL WAVE, the largest bombing mission against the Ploesti oil fields and refineries in Romania. Enemy anti-aircraft fire caused their plane to crash; out of the crew, only pilot Capt. Wallace Taylor was accounted for.

Lt. Francis Wiesler would later write Wood’s parents about the attack, saying, “I was flying next to him all the way to the target, until one of my engines quit. He then went on over the target, still leading his formation, which had dwindled to five ships. None of those five ships came back.”

Wood’s body wasn’t identified after the attack. He was 24 years old at the time of his death.

The Journey Home

Wood and others whose remains couldn’t be identified after the mission were interred as “Unknowns” in the Hero Section of a Romanian cemetery until after the war, when the American Graves Registration Command (AGRC) stepped in. The organization searched for and recovered fallen American personnel, but was unable to identify more than 80 unknowns, including Wood.

The unidentified airmen were moved once more, to the Ardennes American Cemetery and Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. They would remain there until 2017, when the DPAA launched another attempt to identify lost airmen from Operation TIDAL WAVE.

74 years after his death, Wood and other unidentified military personnel finally returned to the United States. They were sent to the Nebraska’s DPAA Laboratory at Offutt Air Force Base for yet another attempt to determine who they had once been. DPAA scientists used dental and anthropological analysis to identify Wood. Scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System further confirmed results by using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y chromosome DNA (Y-STR), and autosomal DNA (auSTR) analysis.

Wood’s name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Florence American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Impruneta, Italy, along with others still missing from WWII. Now that he has been identified, a rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

Wood will be buried on Oct. 23, 2021, in Madill, Oklahoma. For family and funeral information, contact the Army Casualty Office at (800) 892-2490. You can read his personnel profile here, and find more information on the Defense Departments mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving their nation here.

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