Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Philanthropist Endured Torture in War

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Philanthropist Endured Torture in War

Article excerpt

OBITUARY: John R. Wood's foundation has helped Sarasota since 1983SARASOTA COUNTYHe grew up an orphan. He spent more than three years as a World War II prisoner of war where he survived disease, malnourishment and the brutal Bataan Death March. He experienced hardships few others have ever known.Yet he spent his lifetime without displaying a hint of bitterness about his past, and rose to become one of Sarasota's most prominent philanthropists.John R. Wood, a founder of the local Wilson-Wood Foundation, died Monday at 91.The foundation, which he established in 1983 with relatives and the late Hugh and Mary Wilson, has bestowed more than $8 million in grants to worthy local causes.For 17 years, it has collaborated with the Community Foundation of Sarasota County on the Unsung Hero Awards to honor people who have performed extraordinary acts of volunteerism."He really had humble beginnings," said his daughter, Susan Faessler of Nokomis. "He earned everything he had; he came from nothing."Wood was born in Panama, where his father worked on construction of the Panama Canal. His parents died after the family settled in Tennessee, leaving him an orphan."He and his siblings were passed back and forth between relatives and distant family," Faessler said.At 19, he decided to join the U.S. Army Air Corps so he would have "a permanent home, three meals a day and a place to sleep at night," his daughter said.Sent to the Philippines as a bombardier, Wood was soon captured by the Japanese.He survived the grueling, two-week Bataan Death March through the Philippine jungles, constantly threatened by armed guards."If you slowed down or didn't obey them, they'd hit you with their rifle," Wood remembered in a 2007 interview. "They had bamboo sticks they'd whack you with."He spent 41 months in various prisoner-of-war camps, as well as in a vessel that would become known as a "hell ship" in which POWs were "stacked like sardines," Faessler said.He was still in Japan when the war ended, and his captors used him as a slave laborer in a copper mine.Upon his release, Wood - who was taller than 6 feet and weighed 168 pounds before the war -- returned to the United States a sickly 89 pounds and infected with dysentery and fever. …

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