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Biography

Age: 88

Unit: Woody started off with the 41st Infantry Division and later moved to the 104th Infantry Division, Army

War fronts: Served from 1940 to 1945, at Normandy and elsewhere in the European Theatre

His words: "One of the things I was really lonesome for was the smell of sagebrush. Can you imagine that? Being from Wyoming and wanting to smell sagebrush again?"

On the Web: Watch more of Woody’s story and see profiles of other veterans at www.trib.com/honor

The moment he remembers most now, more than 60 years later, is the one he's never been very proud of.

He's spent most of his life trying to forget about that war, but now a reporter is in his office asking him to remember.

So he does.

As the Allies moved toward Germany, Howard Woody and the 104th Infantry Division advanced to the Rur River. They had to cross it to see if Germans were guarding the other side and determine how well equipped they were.

Woody swam across. It was winter, and the water was freezing.

He found Germans, but they didn't seem to be in good shape. Horses pulled mess wagons. It looked like the soldiers had little fuel for their vehicles. What they did have went toward powering the flood lights they shone down on the river.

Woody says the war was full of choices. Everyone had to make them, all the time.

"Those kind of decisions," he says, "are what made us win the war."

Standing at the Rur, it was his turn to decide.

Woody joined the Army in 1940, one of 36 from the Bridger Valley to enter the 41st Infantry Division, part of the National Guard. He thought he'd only be in for one year. Turned out to be five.

The years he spent in the Army were the only ones spent outside Mountain View. His father started Union Telephone in 1914, and Woody was born in a bedroom right behind the switchboard.

Woody was transferred to the 104th Infantry Division when it went into active military service in 1942. He trained with his new unit at Camp Adair, Ore., California and later Colorado Springs, Colo.

The 104th arrived in France in September of 1944. Woody remembers landing at Normandy, between Omaha and Utah beach.

They arrived before daylight, and all was calm and quiet, Woody says. The shooting didn't come until later, once they had made it up on land. Woody describes the war as "one man wide." He could only see what was right in front of him.

"I remember being an awful scared kid," he says. "All you could do was run and hide."

But everywhere he went, Garvis Richey was with him. They met back in the States during training, and clear through the war, they travelled together.

Richey was from Arkansas and about the same age as Woody. They ran into each other later, in the '50s, skiing in Park City, Utah. Richey didn't recognize Woody at first, in all that ski gear. They kept in touch longer still, and when Richey died, Woody spoke at the funeral.

Even when Woody got separated from his unit overseas, he always seemed to get lost with Richey beside him.

Getting lost was fairly easy. It happened to Woody often. He remembers getting separated shortly after arriving in France. They had no food with them, so they plucked apples from trees.

"About half the people were lost all the time," he says.

But the moment that has always bothered him happened at the Rur.

After spotting the Germans and their supplies, Woody and the other soldiers readied to go back across the river. He told the assistant squad leader to take half the men and go whichever direction he wanted, up or down river. Woody would head the other way, he had said. He figured if they split and went in two directions, they'd all have a better chance of getting across.

The assistant, Sharon, went down the river.

Woody was going to go up river, but he didn't. He stopped right there.

Why don't we go? the six men with him asked.

No, Woody had said. Let's sit right here and wait. We'll see if Sharon gets across. If he don't, while they're shooting at him, we'll go across.

They sat and waited.

Soon, they saw flashes of light where Sharon had crossed.

Hit the river, Woody shouted.

He swam as hard as he could. He kept telling himself: You're going to make it. You're going to make it.

Woody crawled out of the water and over ice.

All six of Woody's soldiers made it across before the flood light could spot them.

Only two from Sharon's group survived.

That is what he tried to forget.

When Sharon went toward the river, Woody says, "I was responsible for six men yet. I had to try to save them."

He asks himself if he did the right thing.

"Only God will be the judge."

Still, he wonders.

"Was I fair, or wasn't I?"

"Can you tell me?"

They served with honor

Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.

"They served with honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.

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