Elbert Wood: The Center of a City

“Don’t fire until our tanks fire first!”

The year was 1944, and Elbert Wood was a fighting Marine in a massive standoff with the Japanese army at Bougainville Canal. The Marine soldiers were out of food and were battling on empty stomachs–not for the faint of heart!

Wood and his fellow Marines heard the Japanese coming, and he jumped into a ditch to take cover–rifle in hand and a steady heartbeat. Just as he and his men were told to wait until the tanks fired before they took aim, all hell broke loose.

The Japanese bombarded them with mortar rounds. One blasted just behind Wood, throwing him forward in the ditch. Then another blew right in front–shredding his right leg.

After 1 year in the hospital, Elbert Wood was honorably discharged for medical reasons, but not before the commander of the Naval regime presented him with a Purple Heart…Wood’s 2nd one.

Fast-forward 69 years…

I recently had the honor of sitting down with Mr. Elbert Wood, now 93-years-old, at the Westminster Senior Living community in Kingwood, TX. You should understand, though, that this isn’t Mr. Wood’s permanent residence. There’s a story, here, that is sure to inspire everyone to be proud of our military, to draw anyone to love of our city, and to be fascinated with a man who gave so much without asking anything in return.Elbert Wood

To me, that kind of attitude is rare and precious: giving much without asking anything in return. Mr. Wood sat in his chair and recalled many friends who lost their lives in WWII. His eyes foretold a story and a time, long ago, that left me in awe. And his character, even today–after what recently happened to him unfairly, was one I found myself desiring to adopt as my own. Surely, this man is someone I not only look up to but aspire to be like. He reminds me of both my grandfathers–strong character and gentle demeanor.

Mr. Wood was married to his bride for 55 years. A woman of beauty inside and out, Angelina Enos and Elbert proved that marriage is a sacred union worth fighting for. After all, 55 years is a long time. Mr. Wood recalled their first house purchase for $700. Over the years, he had remodeled, added on to, and refinished various parts of their house to make it more their home. And after these 55 years together, Mr. Wood said Good-bye to his love, Angelina, as she passed away on January 2, 2013.

“I was in shock and fear!”

To say these last 2 months were difficult enough is an understatement, but something else happened to Mr. Wood that further ached his heart. Yet it was an event that ignited the 4th largest city in the U.S. to come to his aid.

On Monday, January 21st, Mr. Wood arrived home from a trip to the grocery store. It was this same home he had purchased for his wife many years ago. Using his walker, he approached his front door but noticed it had been opened. In fear and shock, Mr. Wood left his walker and shuffled into his house. To his horror, the entirety of his house had been spray painted and vandalized.

“Are you here?!” he shouted. That’s when he saw the back door ajar. Mr. Wood, then, called the police. As he waited for them to arrive, he looked around his home–marked and tatted. He looked into his kitchen and could almost see his dear Angelina cooking at the stove. How he missed her–especially now.

It wasn’t just the walls that were wrecked with paint, but cherished items that he kept dear to his heart–items from his late wife. The familiarity of his home had been stolen. His love of 55 years was gone, and now his home vandalized.

Our City to the Rescue

It seemed to have started with one man behind the microphone on the radio. Nationally syndicated, conservative radio talk show host Michael Berry introduced Mr. Wood to the world. Berry, one of my favorite talk show hosts, showed his true colors as he challenged the city of Houston, TX to show support for Mr. Wood.

That’s when all heaven broke loose. Businesses called in to donate their services. Individuals mailed in checks. Callers on Berry’s show made their commitments on-air. These were the people of Houston who wanted to give without expecting anything in return.

And, most of all, the Marines came. Those who never leave a man behind upheld their duty and honor for Mr. Elbert Wood–their fellow Marine. Mr. Wood had suffered a stroke some time in the past, but he didn’t let the weakness in his right hand stop him from shaking the hands of his fellow Marines. They honored him, and he wanted to honor them in return. This is the kind of man Mr. Wood is.

At least $50,000 dollars was donated. Mr. Wood’s house received a complete work-over, new furniture, new roof–in fact, you can see a full list of what Mr. Wood’s new friends gave to him here.

I sat with Mr. Wood and listened as he spoke of his dearest gratitude for his Marines, for Michael Berry, for the people of Houston, and for Westminster Senior Living community who picked him up in a limo and treated him “like a president!”

“I love this place! Everyone is so kind and good to me here!” said Mr. Wood about Westminster in Kingwood.

“I’m amazed at what he’s done,” Mr. Wood spoke of Berry’s efforts on his behalf.

A true American. A believer in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and a member of Oaks Presbyterian Church in Houston, Mr. Wood went on and on at how thankful he is to God for what’s going on with him.

A Legacy Worth Giving

After spending over an hour with Mr. Wood, I asked him one last question: What kind of legacy do you wish to leave for generations to come?

This man was wounded more than once in World War II. He lived on a small income and always strived to avoid debt. He was married to the same woman for 55 years. And his home was vandalized.

But his answer to my question brings me to the end of this article. In the manner of Sir Winston Churchhill, Mr. Wood sat up straight in his chair and simply replied…

“Never give up.”

What have I learned from Mr. Wood’s story?

  • Our city is what we make of it. We can complain, or we can mobilize together to make it a better place.
  • Our military is honorable. We can divide ourselves on reasons of battle or war, or we can unite in gratitude, support, and sacrifice for our military–ALL branches.
  • Our families are worth fighting for. We can choose to be responsible for our families and work hard to keep them together, or we can give up, give in, and give them over to someone else to take that responsibility.
  • Our faith is vital. We can decide to trust in the Creator God who loves us unconditionally, or we can trip over ourselves as we stumble through life’s difficulties.
  • Our lives are sacred. God created us for His pleasure. We can see life as sacred and help others in need, or we can fight to get our own way at the expense of our neighbor.
  • Our character can change the world. We can choose to be a people who takes, or we can choose to be a people who gives without expecting anything in return.

That’s me. What about you?

(Mr. Elbert Wood moved into his newly refurbished home on Tuesday, Feb. 12th with great amazement and delight.)

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