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NEWS | July 23, 2013

WWII vet helps others as hospital volunteer

By Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Sitting in a small hospital waiting room, a man of almost six feet tall, with smoky-white hair and creases in his skin sits attentively, kindly smiling at patients as they walk by.

Unbeknownst to passersby, his calm demeanor belies a wealth of knowledge about the facility, earned during a long information desk volunteer career at U.S. Air Force Hospital Langley.

The hospital services more than 110,000 retired, active-duty military and dependents in the Hampton Roads area. With limited manning, the 633rd Medical Group has set up a Retiree Volunteer Program to offer veterans the opportunity to help others in their spare time, and also help out the staff when needed.

For retired U.S. Army Col. Edgar Wood, working at the information desk has been a part of his life for the last 14 years after serving 32 years in the Army.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas, he joined the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment in 1940 as a second lieutenant, at the age of 22.

He began to tell his story, his youthful blue eyes, in contrast to his age, filling with tears behind small-framed glasses as he recalled what it was like to be in the field.

"While we were in Italy, we occupied a mountain called Mount Lungo," he began. "I was with the Third Battalion, Company H, and I was told to be prepared to make an attack on the outpost of Mount Porchia."

The next morning, December 7, 1943, Wood received word from his battalion to make the attack. The task was to climb the 850-foot mountain and take the outpost from German soldiers.

"I knew if I deployed on a wide range, we were [going to] suffer heavy casualties," he said. "So I decided that we would take a vertical draw up the mountain, and we were up like [single] file, one behind the other. We were able to reach the top with a limited enemy opposition, and were able to get 87 [men] on top of the mountain. We swept down and then drove the Germans off."

Following a long pause, he continued with a crackle in his voice and pride in his eyes, looking up at the ceiling.

"I got on the radio, called the battalion and told them, 'Mount Porchia belongs to Uncle Sam and no force on earth is gonna drive us off,'" he said.

After the victory at Mount Porchia, Italy, Wood and his unit continued to fight until the end of the war in 1945. He spent the remainder of his time traveling the world until it was time to retire.

Because Wood was used to being in constant motion, after his retirement as a Col., he continued to do odd jobs for 26 years. Then, he heard about the Langley hospital's volunteer program.

"When you retire, you get a lot of time sitting in a chair, and I wasn't fit for that. I'm used to being busy doing things," he said. "So I talked to somebody who was a volunteer, and as soon as I heard what it was, I came over and made an application and I was appointed that day. Since then, I've been working as a volunteer at the Langley hospital information desk."

Wood is now "95 and four months" old. According to him, he is the oldest retiree and the only Army vet currently volunteering at the Langley hospital. He looks forward to volunteering at the hospital every Tuesday.

"I continue to do it because it's something to do, and it's helping other people," he said.

There was another pause, and silence filled the air as if the world had stopped to listen to the familiar, unsteady voice.

"It's a great program. You handle the whole hospital, and you save the patients time in locating the places they want to go to be treated," he said. "Whether it's military [personnel] or dependent, if they are authorized to come in and receive treatment, and they want the information, I'm there to provide it for them. It feels good; whenever you help someone, you have a good feeling."

Wood ended his story with a wide smile, exaggerating his creases. As he left the waiting room, he slowly eased his way back to man his post at the information desk, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the hospital, taking his familiar place amid the action.