Governor Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder recognize the service and sacrifice of Staff Sergeant Lawrence Woods of Clarksville. SSG Woods was among eight service members killed in a plane crash on October 24, 1964 and the first Tennessean to be declared missing in action (MIA) leading up to the Vietnam War.
SSG Woods was a member of the 5th Special Forces Group based out of Fort Campbell. The United States Army staff sergeant was aboard a C-123 Provider aircraft that crashed when it was struck by enemy fire while resupplying the U.S. Special Forces camp at Bu Prang, Vietnam. Shortly after the crash, U.S. Forces were able to recover the remains of Air Force service members Captain Valmore W. Bourque, First Lieutenant Edward J. Krukowiski, First Lieutenant Robert G. Armstrong, Staff Sergeant Ernest J. Halvorson, Staff Sergeant Theodore B. Phillips, Airman First Class Eugene Richardson and Army Private First Class Charles P. Sparks. However, search and recovery crews were not able to find SSG Woods’ body.
Teams from the United States, Cambodia and Vietnam conducted a series of coordinated searches from 1997 to 2010 and excavated the wreckage and recovered SSG Woods’ remains. Scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used forensic and circumstantial evidence to account for SSG Woods.
“The State of Tennessee pauses to recognize and remember the ultimate sacrifice of Staff Sergeant Lawrence Woods, and we hope the upcoming ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery offers the Woods family some peace and solace after these many years,” Governor Haslam said.
“It is bittersweet to welcome Staff Sergeant Woods home to American soil as a hero who served with courage and valor,” Commissioner Grinder said. “We are grateful his family has finally received the closure of this news and the ability to bury their loved one.”
SSG Woods and his wife Francis L. Woods were raising their three children in Clarksville at the time of his deployment. SSG Woods was 39 years old at the time of the crash.
Lisa Szymanski was only 13 years old when her father was declared missing. “He was a really good dad with a beautiful sense of humor and I remember he was always helping people,” Ms. Szymanksi said. “The memories are flooding back as we prepare for this time of closure.”
SSG Woods is survived by his daughter, Lisa C. Szymanski of Fort Myers, Fl., son, Steven R. Woods of Clarksville, daughter, Deborah A. Secriskey of Hermitage, Tn., sister, Rozzellar Biniecki of Hammond, In., sister, Betty Jewel Tucker of Highland, In., sister, Ophelia Willoughby of Huntsville, Al., and brother, William Woods of Dyer, In., as well as six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Governor Haslam has declared a day of mourning and ordered flags at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Friday, March 21 in honor of Staff Sergeant Woods’ ultimate sacrifice. SSG Woods will be buried during a group burial at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. on March 21.