In this episode we will be honoring the memory of a brave Vietnam Veteran who flew helicopters with A Company of the 101st Aviation Battalion in the 101st Airborne Division, The Comancheros. His name was Gerald Woods and he died on Feb. 18, 1971 near the A Shau Valley when his helicopter was shot down while in the process of extracting a Special Forces team in harm’s way. There was a story about him in The Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon titled: Salem man honors Vietnam pilot: ‘He’s not coming home, but his memory is’ that was submitted by Capi Lynn, a writer for the Statesman Journal.
In Lynn’s story she describes what happens as a result of the strong bonds members of helicopter units developed in Vietnam. Fred Thompson served in the same unit with Woods in Vietnam. One of his additional duties in the unit was that of graves registration officer. During his tour of duty he handled the affairs of nine members of his unit killed in combat. It was his job to help with closure for the families of the fallen. In Woods case that was a challenging task since his remains were never recovered after the crash.
After the war Thompson settled down in Salem and became an insurance agent and never stopped trying to track down family members of his friend and fellow Comanchero Gerry Woods. Finally a clue emerged. In May 2015, Lynn wrote a column about a fallen Salem soldier who never came home from Vietnam. Thompson contacted Lynn and as a result located Woods’ sister, Yvonne Sanders, who lives in nearby Silverton, Oregon.
Thompson got in touch with Sanders and presented her and her family with a signed and customized limited-edition print by aviation artist Joe Kline. It shows a UH-1 Huey extracting a Special Forces team. The painting was customized to show the red diamond symbol of Woods’ unit and the tail number 15255 of the aircraft he was flying when he died.
Fred Thompson is a truly outstanding representative of the great Vietnam Veteran Generation especially for what he did to bring closure to the family of Gerald Woods.