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Remembering Major Woods: How a granddaughter learns about a man through 'Nana'

Courtney Woods, granddaughter of former missing in action Airman Maj. Robert F. Woods, lays a flower on the casket of her grandfather during the funeral for Major Woods at Arlington National Cemetery April 9, 2008.  Major Woods, who was buried nearly 40 years after disappearing in Vietnam on June 26, 1968, was someone Ms. Woods never knew, but knows a lot about thanks to her grandmother, the major's wife, Mary Woods.  (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

Courtney Woods, granddaughter of former missing in action Airman Maj. Robert F. Woods, lays a flower on the casket of her grandfather during the funeral for Major Woods at Arlington National Cemetery April 9, 2008. Major Woods, who was buried nearly 40 years after disappearing in Vietnam on June 26, 1968, was someone Ms. Woods never knew, but knows a lot about thanks to her grandmother, the major's wife, Mary Woods. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

This portrait of Mary and Maj. Robert F. Woods was taken just months before Major Woods left for Vietnam in 1967. On Nov. 30, 2007, the Air Force announced that Major Woods, along with co-pilot Capt. Johnnie C. Cornelius, were identified and their remains returned to the United States from Vietnam.  On June 26, 1968, Major Woods and Captain Cornelius were flying a visual reconaissance mission over Quang Binh Province, Vietnam, when their O-2A Skymaster aircraft crashed in a remote mountainous area.  Major Woods was buried with full military honors April 9, 2008, at Arlington National Cemetery nearly 40 years after he disappeared in the crash. (Photo courtesy of the Woods family)

This portrait of Mary and Maj. Robert F. Woods was taken just months before Major Woods left for Vietnam in 1967. On Nov. 30, 2007, the Air Force announced that Major Woods, along with co-pilot Capt. Johnnie C. Cornelius, were identified and their remains returned to the United States from Vietnam. On June 26, 1968, Major Woods and Captain Cornelius were flying a visual reconaissance mission over Quang Binh Province, Vietnam, when their O-2A Skymaster aircraft crashed in a remote mountainous area. Major Woods was buried with full military honors April 9, 2008, at Arlington National Cemetery nearly 40 years after he disappeared in the crash. (Photo courtesy of the Woods family)

Maj. Robert F. Woods sits in the pilot seat of an 02-A Skymaster in Vietnam in 1968.  On June 26, 1968, Major Woods disappeared in the Quang Binh Province in Vietnam after the 02-A Skymaster he was flying crashed in a remote mountainous region.  A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Major Woods was in the military for 20 years when he disappeared. His career began in June 1948 as an enlisted aircrew member on a C-74 Globemaster in the Berlin Airlift.  In 1951 he became an officer and a pilot flying KC-97 Stratotankers in the Korean Conflict.  In Vietnam, he served as a forward air controller in the Skymaster with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron in DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. He earned his first of eight Air Medals in Korea and also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam.  On April 9, 2008, he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery nearly 40 years after he disappeared.  (Photo courtesy of the Woods family)

Maj. Robert F. Woods sits in the pilot seat of an 02-A Skymaster in Vietnam in 1968. On June 26, 1968, Major Woods disappeared in the Quang Binh Province in Vietnam after the 02-A Skymaster he was flying crashed in a remote mountainous region. A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Major Woods was in the military for 20 years when he disappeared. His career began in June 1948 as an enlisted aircrew member on a C-74 Globemaster in the Berlin Airlift. In 1951 he became an officer and a pilot flying KC-97 Stratotankers in the Korean Conflict. In Vietnam, he served as a forward air controller in the Skymaster with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron in DaNang Air Base, South Vietnam. He earned his first of eight Air Medals in Korea and also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam. On April 9, 2008, he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery nearly 40 years after he disappeared. (Photo courtesy of the Woods family)

FORT DIX, N.J. -- Courtney Woods wasn't around when her grandfather, Maj. Robert F. Woods, disappeared in Vietnam on June 26, 1968. As a matter of fact, her father Chuck was only eight years old when the major disappeared.

Now living in Rochester, Minn., after growing up in Albuquerque, N.M., the young adult and soon-to-be bride of Mr. Brian Liwski says she knows a lot more about Major Woods. Nearly 40 years after he disappeared and a little more than a month after her grandfather was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on April 9, this granddaughter said she's always known a lot about him thanks to someone who knew him very well - her grandmother and the major's wife, Mary.

Courtney, along with her brother Mackenzie or "Mac" for short, refer to their grandmother as "Nana," she said. When learning about her grandfather, Courtney said her grandmother taught them a lot about him through memories, photos and letters before she died in September 1995. She said her grandmother was an "amazing" person.

"Nana was full Greek, about 5-feet, 2-inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds soaking wet," Courtney said. "In the pictures I've seen of her and my grandfather, she came up to about his chest. But from what I remember, she was a little spitfire. She was also an amazing grandmother--she was always there for you no matter what it was."

Courtney said, when learning from her grandmother, that seeing letters her grandfather wrote to his wife was inspiring in seeing the love he has for his wife and family.

"One thing my Nana wanted Mac and me to know was what a wonderful man my grandfather was," Courtney said. "He would write to her every single day--he never missed a single day! His letters go right up until the day he went missing. She would let us read them and by reading his words we were able to see the meaning and thoughtfulness that went into each and every letter.

"He would tell her how he loved her and how much he wanted to see her and be with his family again," Courtney said. "He would tell her that everything was going to be okay and tell her that 'Chuckie's (my dad) a boy and he will do things that the girls didn't do, but that's just a boy being a boy and to have patience with him.' He was a wonderful father and husband and he would never tell her the bad things that were going on around him."

Courtney said the letters always said something like, "Nothing is happening here," or, "Very quiet, not much to say. Tell me about there."

"What I got from his letters is the last thing he wanted was this woman who he loved so dearly to be worrying about him while trying to take care of four children and run a household on her own," Courtney said. "They loved each other more than anything else. She waited for him right up until the day that the Lord took her and prayed that we would come back."

Even Courtney's aunt, Mrs. Lana Taylor of Mesa, Ariz. - the oldest daughter of Major Woods, said Mary Woods refused to believe her husband was gone.

"When Dad disappeared, my mother did not handle it well--ever, ever, ever," Mrs. Taylor said. "For nearly 30 years she refused to believe my father was dead."

Courtney said she remembers occasions when the screen door to her grandmother's home would open unexpectedly, she'd see her grandmother look up and say, "Maybe it's him."

"Then a look of disappointment would come across her face when it wasn't my grandfather," Courtney said. "I know that they are together now in heaven and I am so happy for that."

Courtney said she will always remember her grandmother fondly and knows that her grandfather was more than a hero. She also appreciates his ultimate sacrifice for his country.

"My grandfather was an American hero I know that," Courtney said. "I wish that he wouldn't have died in Vietnam for my own selfish reason of wanting to know him and to have him in our lives today. But I also know that he helped many of his own and to me that means the world.

"He was out there fighting for our freedom and for our independence and without men like him, America wouldn't be the America that we have all come to know and love and also to take for granted," Courtney said. "It takes an event like this to make you open your eyes and see what families go through when a loved one dies. When you go to Arlington and you see all of those gravestones, you realize just how many men it has taken for that dream of freedom to be a reality."

Going to her grandfather's funeral at Arlington was a way to close the book of learning about her grandfather. She said it's made her appreciate him and others like him even more.

"Arlington was a very emotional and overwhelming place to see and be a part of," Courtney said. "The funeral for my grandfather was amazing--a long time coming--but truly amazing. I'm not very educated in our nation's military or how it is run, but walking around Arlington gave me a sense of the numbers of people who have fought for our country and have allowed us to live in this great nation the way we have been able to.

"I remember being up at (Arlington) Mansion looking over the hill and seeing the huge amount of white tombstones in hundreds of rows," Courtney said. "I remember thinking these are the people who fought for our freedom and are continuing to do so today. It really makes you think."