Col. “Don” Woodard was born on 5 September 1941, in rural Johnston County (near Princeton) North Carolina, where his family worked as sharecroppers. One very hot summer day (103 degrees to be exact), Don was picking cotton for his landlord and observed jets flying from near-by Seymour Johnson Air Force; it was then that Don decided he wanted to pursue a military career. He was looking for adventure, and knew from reading that those planes were a part of that. Luckily for Don, his agriculture teacher picked up on his interest and helped him find the Frederick Military Academy (FMA) in Portsmouth, VA. In Don’s words, “Frederick had work scholarships, running water, three meals each a day, neat clothes (uniforms), phone booths, movies, and ice cream! I fell in love with the military lifestyle!”
One of the movies shown at FMA was, The D.I., about US Marine Corps drill instructors. Don was so impressed that he and a friend went right down and joined the Marines; the year was 1960. While serving four years as a reservist and active duty Marine, he managed to complete a bachelor’s degree; that is when Don decided to switch to the Army to attend Officer Candidate School. While being in the Marines was a great experience, Don felt the Army offered better opportunities. And thanks to his prior experience, he was named number one in his class, better known as the “Distinguished Graduate.”
While a Marine and early in his Army career, Don served in the Infantry Division. As his career progressed, he took command and served in many different areas, including the Signal Corps, Medical Service Corps, and the Adjutant General Corps. Serving for 36 years took Don to 20 different countries -- Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Vietnam and the Caribbean Islands are just a few. He also served in various assignments stateside; his favorites were Little Creek, VA; Camp Shelby, MS; and Gulfport, MS.
There are many different memories from his career that stand out in Don’s mind. He recounts some of the most poignant ones, such as his first airplane ride from Norfolk, VA, to Vieques, Puerto Rico, on a C-130 to train and prepare for the Cuban Missile Crisis. The plane made a perilous landing on an extremely short runway with the nose over water! Being a man of faith serving in the Middle East was very emotional; in the Tigris and Euphrates river areas, even the shepherds with their sheep made the scriptures more real. Being pulled from the field for three days to escort a congressional delegation and sleep two nights in a Saddam Hussein-type palace was an amazing experience. However, there are some darker memories, such as two soldiers injured by lightening, several vehicle accidents, and the devastating loss of 14 lives and 28 injuries when his battalion was hit with a scud missile attack. While all of this was going on, Don managed to graduate from the College of William and Mary in 1968 with a Master of Education degree. And finally, in 1988, he completed the requirements for his Doctor of Education degree from a consortium of different universities, including VA Tech, Old Dominion University, and Clayton University. These degrees prepared him for his second career in the education field; he served as a teacher and principal for various grade levels, but high school was his main focus.
Don volunteers at the Alabama Veterans Museum and is honored to serve on the advisory board at the Huntsville VA Clinic; he is also involved with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV.) He feels that veterans need to continue to serve in their community. Don would like to establish a viable “Speakers Bureau” and serve as an ambassador/speaker for the Veterans Museum.
After being widowed for 12 years, Don remarried in October of 2018 in Seoul, South Korea. His lovely wife, Kyung, is a retired registered nurse and is very supportive of anything military. Don’s son, Scott, is a Citadel graduate and disabled veteran; he and his wife, Lori, live in San Antonio. His daughter, Leah, graduated from East Carolina University and is a mother of four; she and her husband, Sean, live in Athens.
By: Sandra Thompson
Director, Alabama Veterans’ Museum