Mobile, AL-Tuskegee Airman and retired U. S. Air Force Maj. Carrol S. Woods will serve as guest speaker at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., celebration sponsored by the Office of Minority Student Affairs at the University of South Alabama.
The event will be held in the Student Center Ballroom at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21. This year’s theme is “Celebrating a Badge of Courage.” Admission is free.
Woods is a resident of Montgomery and a native of Valdosta, Georgia. Shortly after graduating from high school, he began working to save money for college, but he was unable to pursue college after he was drafted into the U. S. Army in March of 1941.
Interested in aviation, Woods learned that he could take a pre-training course and receive fighter pilot training under the Army Air Corps Program, better known as the Tuskegee Experiment. Woods was selected for training in Tuskegee in 1942, along with 1,000 others. Some 450 Tuskegee Airmen served overseas.
“I didn’t realize it at the time that I was a part of making history,” he said. “I just wanted to fly.”
Before 1940, African-Americans were not allowed to fly for the U.S. military, but because of the civil rights efforts, the government formed the Tuskegee Airman at Tuskegee University.
Woods was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron and later the 99th Fighter Squadron with the military transferring the squadron to the 332nd Fighter Group. According to Tuskegee Airmen National Historian Bill Holton, the 301st Fighter Squadron was added to make it the only four-squadron group flying bomber escorts in the 15th strategic Air Force.
“We had a perfect escort record,” Woods said. “In 200 missions, not one was lost to enemy fire,”
Woods’ plane was shot down over Athens, Greece in 1944. After parachuting, he hit the ground spraining an ankle. He was taken as a prisoner by the Germans, until the camp was liberated in April of 1945.
Woods is a World War II and Korean War Veteran, and former prisoner of war. He served in the military for 21 years from 1941-1961, and flew 107 combat missions.
Due in part to the distinguished service of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, President Harry Truman ordered the U. S. military to desegregate in 1948, making it among the first institutions to do so.
Woods also worked for Tuskegee University from 1966-1971. He retired from Alabama State University, after 23 years of service.
He is the recipient of numerous awards and medals. They include the American Defense Medal, European, African and Middle Eastern Campaign Medals with six battle stars; American Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters; United Nations Service Medal; Air Force Reserve Medal; Good Conduct Medal Bronze Clasp with two Loops; Air Force Longevity Service Award with four bronze Oak Leaf Clusters; Air Force Outstanding Unit Award; and, Prisoner of War Medal.
Woods, a widower with two children, has five grand children and
four great grandchildren.
This event is co-sponsored by the YWCA of Mobile. For more information call Celia Rochelle, manager of the USA Office of Minority Student Affairs at 460-6895.