report

What Happened to Lt. Eric Wood?

Eric Wood while at Princeton
Eric Wood while at Princeton | Source
The Ardennes
The Ardennes | Source
Eric Wood Sr.
Eric Wood Sr. | Source

About 10 years ago I was reading Gerald Astor’s A Blood Dimmed Tide, an excellent oral history of the Battle of the Bulge. Astor was one of my favorite authors and I expected to gain some new insights into the battle. But when I came upon the story of Lt. Eric Wood, I was stunned. As a lifelong World War II buff, I thought I knew everything about the Bulge. Here was a story that should have been more widely known. It had everything a Hollywood thriller would want: a tough soldier tries to save the lives of his men, escapes the Germans and fights a lonely battle in the desolate woods of the Ardennes.

There are numerous reasons for Wood not being more celebrated: lack of American witnesses, accusations against one of the investigations and the reputation of his Division (106th), which was unfairly maligned after the war. However, when you speak with people who knew Wood and piece together the facts, one comes away with nothing but admiration for this man.


A Rough Start

When the Battle of the Bulge started on the morning of December 16, 1944, the men of the 106th Infantry Division were basically sitting ducks. Outflanked and taking heavy losses, their artillery units were ordered out the morning of the 17th. Battery A, 589th Field Artillery, of whom Eric Wood was the executive officer, had been taking fire since the 0530 the day before. Their battery CO, Captain Aloyisus Menke, was up at an observation post when the Germans struck, and cut off. So it was up to Wood to lead them out.

After disengaging from their original positions, they relocated near the village of Schonberg, Belgium. Within an hour, they were given another march order. The Germans were minutes away, surging through the woods and dirt tracks. Most of the battery got hooked up and onto the road, getting through the village just in time. But one gun remained stuck and Wood decided to stay and help. After several tense minutes, they extricated the gun and immediately sped towards the village. Intermittent shells began falling as they made their way down the long, winding macadam road, the spire of the Church tantalizingly close. Other units were now right behind them.

Unfortunately, the Germans had taken most of Schonberg by then. Their pincer movement had closed in from the north. Wood was hanging on the truck cab as they reached the stone bridge over the Our River. A panzer opened fire, killing the driver, Ken Knoll. Then it began pouring fire on the rest of the men. Sgt. John Scannapico tried to take out the tank with a bazooka, but was cut down as he ran for cover. Most of B Battery was stuck behind them and taking heavy casualties. Men began surrendering from the ditches along the side of the road. The firing halted. Germans were shouting, “Hande Hoch!” The dazed and confused survivors started to line up when suddenly the Germans starting yelling and pointing again. Small arms fire ripped the hill just above town. The GIs looked up and saw the bulky Wood charging towards the trees, bullets ripping the ground around him. He made it, disappearing into the dark labyrinth of the forest. The Germans did a cursory search, but came up with nothing. That was the last time his men would see him alive.

St. Vith Area
St. Vith Area | Source
A Battery, 589th Field Artillery, summer 1944, just prior to Wood's transfer into the battery. Ken Knoll is in the back row, far left. Sgt. Scannapico, second row, far right. John Gatens, second row, fifth from the right.
A Battery, 589th Field Artillery, summer 1944, just prior to Wood's transfer into the battery. Ken Knoll is in the back row, far left. Sgt. Scannapico, second row, far right. John Gatens, second row, fifth from the right. | Source
Eric Wood, left, with his father and brother. Dec. 14, 1944. This is the last known photo of Wood.
Eric Wood, left, with his father and brother. Dec. 14, 1944. This is the last known photo of Wood. | Source
Proud Red Leg and Golden Lion - John Gatens in 2011.
Proud Red Leg and Golden Lion - John Gatens in 2011. | Source
The Church of St. George, Village of Schonberg.  Eric Wood and his convoy passed by here just before crossing the bridge.  The photo would have been taken in front of the bridge.
The Church of St. George, Village of Schonberg. Eric Wood and his convoy passed by here just before crossing the bridge. The photo would have been taken in front of the bridge. | Source
The bridge site today. Good view of how narrow the roads were. The original bridge was demolished and rebuilt downstream. Church is just out of sight, to the right.
The bridge site today. Good view of how narrow the roads were. The original bridge was demolished and rebuilt downstream. Church is just out of sight, to the right. | Source

A Born Leader

Eric Wood was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Wood’s father, General Eric Fisher Wood Sr., was a member of Eisenhower’s staff and a World War I veteran. In civilian life, he was a prominent architect in the Pittsburgh area, although he was best known for helping to found the American Legion. He was also active in the Pennsylvania National Guard and wrote a book on ROTC programs. Raised with a sense of service, Eric Wood Jr. had gone through Valley Forge Military Academy and subsequently attended Princeton prior to the war. He was married with two kids when he arrived overseas. A hard charger by all accounts, he became A Battery’s executive just before deployment. The men of the battery respected him greatly and speak about him with reverence even today. Although there is a dispute on the exact nature of what happened, some facts are agreed upon.

Memorial to Eric Wood near Meyerode
Memorial to Eric Wood near Meyerode | Source
Schonberg, Belgium in a prewar photo. Bridge and Church are behind the house in foreground, just to the left.
Schonberg, Belgium in a prewar photo. Bridge and Church are behind the house in foreground, just to the left.
Lt. Francis O'Toole, A Battery, 589th Field Artillery Battalion
Lt. Francis O'Toole, A Battery, 589th Field Artillery Battalion | Source

In the late afternoon of the 17th, Peter Mariate, a local villager, was out looking for a suitable Christmas tree. That may seem strange now, but the war had been raging for four years. This was an area of dairy farmers and lumbermen, so even in the midst of war, traditions continued. He anxiously slogged around for some time in the desolate, yet still picturesque woods. The sounds of war still seemed far enough away. To his astonishment, he found two weary American soldiers standing in front of him. Speaking no English, the German-speaking Mariate tried to convince the wary Americans he was friendly. Facial expressions, hand signals, and bits of English words here and there finally convinced the freezing GIs to go home with their new found Teutonic rescuer.

It was nearly dark, so they had to hurry. Upon reaching the village, Mariate welcomed them into his large, stone house and sent for a friend to translate. Mariate later told Army investigators that the man he identified as Wood was “a big young man with confident, smiling face.” Wood apparently stated to the family that if he could not get back to American lines, he was going to fight the Germans behind the lines, conducting a war of his own.

The bold talk scared Mr. Mariate. He feared for his family’s safety and pressed the men to stay the night. His wife offered copious amounts of food and warm drinks. Mariate warned them that the Germans were already overrunning the area. Escape was unlikely. The next morning, Wood and his companion were awakened, fed a hearty breakfast by Mrs. Mariate, and sent on their way.

The Mariates never saw them again. In the following days, small arms fire was heard erupting all over the forest east of the village. German wounded were seen being brought out of the woods. As the front line moved progressively west, Meyerode became a hub of German activity. The village hosted several notable figures, among them Generals Walter Model and Sepp Dietrich along with Belgian collaborator, Leon “Rex” Degrelle. Some villagers heard the Germans complaining about bandits harassing their supply convoys. Civilians were banned from the woods. German convoys inexplicably avoided the forest trails. Whispers among the townspeople grew louder with each day. And a legend was born.

During the first week of February, 1945, a patrol from the 99th Infantry Division approached Meyerode. They were immediately met by happy but still anxious villagers. The GIs were then escorted up a wooded trail to a small clearing. There lay the body of Eric Wood and many other dead.


Doubters

After the war, not everyone believed the story. One prominent member of the 589th's HQ Battery strongly objected to the story and later wrote a history of the Battalion. The lack of any GI survivors was his key argument. No one who was part of this guerilla-like war ever came forward after the battle. Theories about who could have joined Wood abounded. Some felt they might have been infantry stragglers who had escaped encirclement on the Schnee. One officer thought it could have been members of a 106th ID Service Company who had been encamped near Meyerode on the 17th or escapees from the “Lost 500” on Hill 576. Adding to the mystery, the GI with Wood when he met Peter Mariate has never been identified by researchers, though he was reportedly an enlisted man. Apparenlty, there were no other GI dead near Wood. Many felt General Wood just used his influence to make his son appear in a better light. Regardless, Wood is still listed as KIA on December 17, 1944.

Although there is no doubt that the General wanted his son to be deemed a hero, in my opinion and that of many other researchers as well as many of the surviving members of A Battery, Wood did conduct harassing actions against the Germans while the battle raged west of him. The evidence supports that theory. Army doctors determined that he was killed sometime in late January. This would have given him almost a month of surviving behind enemy lines. There was also no reason for constant small arms fire to be heard so far behind German lines at that time. The area had been overrun and secured by the 21st of December. The supply-troubled Germans would not have wasted precious ammo on target practice.

After the battle, Graves Registration reported that almost 200 bodies of German soldiers were found in those same woods, some hastily buried in shallow graves. Additionally, the Mariates had no reason to make up stories, despite accusations that General Wood lavished “gifts” on them. Lastly, all those who knew Wood personally including his fellow officers, said that his actions would have been in keeping with his character.

Lt. Wood was a dedicated, driven man. Major Elliott Goldstein, the Battalion’s executive officer, attributed A Battery’s low casualty rate specifically to Wood's diligence. During their first few days on the line, he made the men dig deeper, well-protected shelters near the gun line in case of sustained counter battery fire. Sitting still was not in his blood. On the morning of the 16th, he led five men, all volunteers, across an open field to a house he thought was acting as an enemy CP. Wood went in alone and thoroughly searched it, finding it empty. During the first attack on A Battery’s positions by Germans Stug IIIs, it was Wood, and another one of his officers, Lt. Francis O’Toole*, who attempted to act as observers, helping to adjust fire on the assault guns. Some men are just driven to go above and beyond the call of their duty, no matter what the situation.

A small monument to the Lieutenant was erected by the local Belgians. It stands on the site where the bodies were found. The simple plaque is beautifully maintained by the villagers to this day. Lt. Wood was certainly not the only GI who fought a lonely war against impossible odds. Stories like this abound from every theater. There will always be doubters, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Men and women are capable of remarkable acts of courage and we still see them today. Wood's story and that of so many of others are examples of why history is important. These stories teach us so much. With preparation, courage and commitment, you can can make an impact on the world. I only hope in the future we can learn that without sacrificing so many lives.


*Lt. O’Toole was killed while a POW during an Allied bombing on December 23, 1944.


For further reference, see

1. St. Vith: Lion in the Way - Ernest Dupuy (Division History)

2. A Blood Dimmed Tide – Gerald Astor

3. A Time for Trumpets- Charles MacDonald

4. Report on the 589th Field Artillery Battalion by the War Department Special Staff, Historical Division. 23 January 1946. 106th Infantry Division Association. 2005. http://www.indianamilitary.org. (Note: This report was a collection of after action interviews with men of the Battalion which included Majors Goldstein and Parker as well as Barney Alford, Graham Cassibry and Earl Scott. It was also used as a chief source of information on the last days of Lt. Wood.).

5. Gatens, John. Author Interview. 22 October 2011 (Fair Lawn, NJ). John was the 1st section gunner for Battery A, 589th. He got through Schonberg early on the 17th, and fought with the Battery until December 23, when he was finally captured.


They Remember

Veterans of the 106th ID along with a German veteran of the battle gather at Wood's grave for a ceremony in 2012.  John Gatens is second from left.
Veterans of the 106th ID along with a German veteran of the battle gather at Wood's grave for a ceremony in 2012. John Gatens is second from left. | Source

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Comments 40 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

This was very interesting. And why not? Why could he not have done what you have described? So many stories of behind the scenes acts of civilians and military persons have passed down through the ages. My Father told me some of he experienced first hand. Thanks for sharing this. And yes, it would be a story that would captivate audiences on a big screen.Thanks for sharing this with us.

Sending Angels your way :) ps


lions44 profile image

lions44 3 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx for the support. I'm so glad that I could help spread this story.


old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi CJ. First class research and presentation. Another excellent hub.

Graham.


lions44 profile image

lions44 3 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx again, Graham. It's a pleasure to help people get to know Eric Wood.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 3 years ago from Canada

this was interesting and really caught my attention well done.


lions44 profile image

lions44 3 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thanks very much, Rebecca. I'm glad it was informative. I was honored to write it. The men who served with Lt. Wood were equally amazing and they were a pleasure to get to know.


Edward J. Palumbo profile image

Edward J. Palumbo 2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

Excellent work and fine photo support. Thank you for keeping the memory of Lt. Wood and others fresh in your writing. As long as they are remembered, they will be honored and their examples will remain fresh


lions44 profile image

lions44 2 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx, Mr. Palumbo. I'm still astonished that I did not find out about Wood until 10 years ago. Part of the reason was that the controversy caused such hard feelings among his comrades. Many remained silent. When I was writing the book on the 106th, I was asked not go too far in dwelling on the story. Everyone had made peace by then and they wanted the reunions remain festive.


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

A very intriguing story. Though my mind can't rule out the possibility of a powerful man like Lt. Wood's father using influence to manufacture a more heroic story, I find the account of Wood conducting guerrilla-style tactics behind enemy lines the more probable story. They should make a movie about it.


lions44 profile image

lions44 2 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

Agreed on the movie. I'm shocked no one has even attempted the production, but it goes to the uncertainty surrounding the incident and the men's ambivalence about opening up an old wound. They still use hushed tones when speaking about it. It's remarkable. Thx.


CatherineGiordano profile image

CatherineGiordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

Beautifully written and a great story. Voted up and also beautiful, interesting and awesome. I'm a sucker for stories about bravery.


lions44 profile image

lions44 2 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx very much, Catherine. It's always great to be able to impart knowledge to the non-WWII buff. And that's been one of my goals since I started here at HP.


Randall 2 years ago

If any story was screaming out to made into a movie it is this one.. amazing man.


lions44 profile image

lions44 2 years ago from Auburn, WA Author

You're right, Randall. The man deserves his due. Unfortunately today, if the title character is not a zombie, vampire or superhero, it might not get made. Thx.


Trajan Aurelius 24 months ago

Was Lt Woods body recovered?


lions44 profile image

lions44 24 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Mr. Aurelius, the body was recovered along with a couple of other GIs around Feb 1, 1945 (+/- a day). Then the body was examined by Army doctors in Belgium. Lt. Wood is buried at the American cemetery in Belgium. Thx for pointing this out. I need to update the story. From rereading the article, it's not very clear about what happened. Appreciate you stopping by. If you have any further questions, just let me know.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 20 months ago from Southern Georgia

A very interesting story about only one of many unsung heroes of WWII, CJ. My Dad was an Omaha Beach and Battle of the Bulge veteran fighting in Patton's 3rd Army.

Two of his brothers also fought in the conflict, one in the South Pacific and the other in the Aleutians. You can imagine the tales they told after the war. Enjoyed the read! :)


lions44 profile image

lions44 20 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thanks Mr. Godwin. Glad you enjoyed it. Would love to hear your dad's story. I know many of the men did not like to speak about their experiences. By the way, your hubs have always been a great read; learned a lot. stay well


Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 19 months ago from Australia

An amazing hub. Myths might abound, but there are so many untold stories about WWII which are far more interesting, showing the humanity of those who fought, on whatever side.

Thank you for sharing


lions44 profile image

lions44 19 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thanks so much, Ms. Harrison. I do love the "untold" stories or those that show the individual fighting against the odds.


SouradipSinha profile image

SouradipSinha 17 months ago from Calcutta

Reading this Hub for the 10-12th time.

The Untold war stories are so interesting.

Voted up.

PS- Can u help me on how to share Hubs?


lions44 profile image

lions44 17 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thanks, Souradip. The Wood story is endlessly fascinating. Did you find out how to share?


SouradipSinha profile image

SouradipSinha 17 months ago from Calcutta

No Sir. The share capsule is not supported in my computer :(


kenbkb 13 months ago

Hi. I had the pleasure of visiting his memorial earlier this summer. It was an honor. The Maraite home is still there as well, with a touch of remodeling added on. I know Lt Wood had two children, one who was born 9 days before he fled into the woods. I wonder if this child or the other one are still living? Would anyone know? I would love to write them to tell them how privledged I am to have known of his story.


lions44 profile image

lions44 13 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Hi Ken, great to hear you visited the site. Would love to see any pictures you might have. I have friends who have met the Mariates and vets who knew Wood. It was always a fascinating conversation. Regarding his kids, yes they are still around. I believe they are still on the east coast. But from what I hear, they have gotten tired of researchers and others contacting them because they never knew him, sadly. When I was writing my book, I purposely did not make any attempt to contact them because that what I was told. So I respected that and spoke with the veterans only. There is so much in the public record regarding the family, I didn't need to. But I would like to meet them someday. If you have any further questions, let me know.


Chris 11 months ago

I just read about Lt. Wood in Charles MacDonald's "A Time for Trumpets" and I found this page in my effort to search for additional details. What an awesome story of a brave man, Wood sounds like he was the true leader that every army desires. It's a shame that none of the other soldiers involved in this incident have been located, assuming that they survived the battle. Given that no other US Army casualties were found in the area I would assume the others somehow survived, or were captured. Has anyone thought to check German archives? This story would make an awesome movie or a book in itself.


Chris 11 months ago

I just read about Lt. Wood in Charles MacDonald's "A Time for Trumpets" and I found this page in my effort to search for additional details. What an awesome story of a brave man, Wood sounds like he was the true leader that every army desires. It's a shame that none of the other soldiers involved in this incident have been located, assuming that they survived the battle. Given that no other US Army casualties were found in the area I would assume the others somehow survived, or were captured. Has anyone thought to check German archives? This story would make an awesome movie or a book in itself.


lions44 profile image

lions44 11 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Hi Chris,

Thx for your interest. I hope they do make a movie about it. Not sure what the family would think.

With regard to survivors, if any of the men who were with him got captured, they might have been shot on the spot. The Germans were quite angry, according the villagers, about the ambushes. And if some had survived as a POW, I'm certain one of them would have spoke about it. Despite the controversy among the men of the division (and the fights that broke out at the reunion one year), I still think at least one would have come forward. That's why I believe they all perished.

German records might not help as they would not state specifically where they became POWs. We do have Belgian witnesses who heard Dietrich mention the issue. The surviving members of the 423rd service company did not mention seeing Wood, although they did meet up with another escaping officer who led most of them to safety (B Battery CO, 589th). Wood deserves more recognition than just from WWII buffs. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 7 months ago from the short journey

Thank you for this introduction to Lt. Eric Wood. So glad his story is finding its voice.


lions44 profile image

lions44 7 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx, RT. It's a fascinating story and so many are surprised that they've never heard it before.


CHRISTINE 6 months ago

IF YOU GO TO 106 INFANTRY DIVISION PAGE AND LOOK ON THE NARRATIVE OF 422, I THINK IT IS COL. WALKER I CANNOT RECALL AND HE COMMENTS THAT A GROUP OF MEN FROM THE 422 WERE UNWILLING TO SURRENDER AND THEY LEFT GOING TOWARD THE FORREST AND WHEN HE HEARD ABOUT WOODS HE SEEMED TO THINK THAT THEY HAD JOINED HIM THERE ALL WERE CAPTURED AND DIED ON DIFFERENT DAYS AND MONTHS. MY UNCLE CHRIS MIRANDA WAS ONE OF THEM. I ALSO THINK THAT POST MAGAZINE WROTE ABOUT WOODS DURING THE WAR


lions44 profile image

lions44 6 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thanks for commenting, Christine. I believe you are referring to the Lost 500. Yes, many did escape the night before the surrender and I believe might have joined up w/Wood. I will look up your uncle and get back to you. If you need info, you can to my FB page (lots of 106th ID contacts there).


Todd 6 months ago

Excellent article. I came across your article while looking up Lt Eric Wood after reading about him in"Decision at St Vith by Charles Whiting c. 1969; an excellent account of the 106th during the battle.


lions44 profile image

lions44 6 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thanks, Todd. Amazing tale.

For more info, go to www.indianamilitary.org. Click on the 106th button and there are amazing first-hand accounts of soldiers who knew Wood. And the official after-action reports are on there as well.

By the way, for a better book on the 106th, try St. Vith: Lion in the Way. While it is an "official" history, it takes a realistic look at their performance. The detail is great. If you have not read it already, please try Charles MacDonald's brilliant, A Time for Trumpets. The best book ever written on the Bulge.


anatomynotes profile image

anatomynotes 4 months ago

I have read several story about WWII. This is the first time I am reading about Lt Eric Woods. It was very interesting and one could indeed learn a lot of it. Thank you for such a beautiful piece of work.


lions44 profile image

lions44 4 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx, anatomynotes, that's the first time someone has used the term "beautiful" for any of my work. But I think I pick easy topics...stay well.


david knoll 2 months ago

My father was, Ken Knoll, he lived in Cloverdale, In... I was born in 1941, have heard many stories about him, but do not remember him, wish I did!


lions44 profile image

lions44 2 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Hi Mr. Knoll, it's great to hear from you. My apologies for not contacting your family or the family Sgt. Scannipico while writing the book. I did not want to drudge up painful memories. If you have any photos of your dad you would be willing to share for the website, let me know. I have tribute pages to many of the guys, and having one for your dad would be great.

Have you ever spoken with anyone from the 106th Infantry Association? I just spoke with a 106th historian who lives in Belgium and he has some information about your dad he would like to share. If you could email me through HP, FB or my website, I'll get his contact to you.

Thx.


Talon17th 2 months ago

I was fascinated with the story of Lt. Wood when first read McDonalds "A Time For Trumpets" Back in the 1990's. When I went on a WWII battlefield pilgramage in 2004, finding Meyerode and Lt. Woods memorial was on my list. After arriving in Meyerode, that took some time to find in itself. I approoached a local villager working in her garden. In my very limited german I inquiuied of the memorial. She lit up and said "Ja Ja" She went into her house and got her husband to lead us out to the site. They were very nice and accommodating. I always thought this would make a great movie as well. With the new Mel Gibson movie coming out Hacksaw Ridge about Pvt. Doss interest may be there. Thanks for writing your article on Lt. Wood.


lions44 profile image

lions44 2 months ago from Auburn, WA Author

Thx, Talon. Glad to hear you went back to the battlefield. There should be a movie about this guy. Now that a lot of the controversy has passed, the time is right.

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