By Dan Heaton
In 1945, 2nd Lt. Claude Wood returned home from Europe and found that the General Motors plant where he had worked prior to his service in World War II was out on strike. With time on his hands, he needed a group to spend time with.
Born and raised in Detroit, his family had moved to the tiny, 900-person village of Fraser when he was a young man, right before the war. Then he shipped out and served in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day +12, survived the Battle of the Bulge and earned a battlefield commission along the way. By the time he returned, he found at first he was “a bit of an outsider to the other local Fraser guys.”
So, he started hanging out with some of the other local young men also just home from the war. What they needed, they decided, was their own club. And a club house.
And with that, the VFW Post in Fraser was born, Claude Wood, charter commander.
“Over the years, we’ve supported scholarships, the parade in Fraser and other civic events. The biggest thing the post has done is give people who share a common bond a place to go,” Wood said.
Among points of pride: the Fraser Post was among the nation’s first to have a Vietnam veteran and, more recently, an Iraqi Freedom veteran as post commander.
“All the original guys, other than me, are gone. But the post is still doing important things in the community,” said Wood.
Today, at age 99, Wood is still an active member of the post’s honor guard, providing rifle salutes at funerals of veterans and at civic events.
Blessed with a sharp memory, Wood talks of a Capt. Hart and the others he served with long ago and recently shared a harrowing tale of his first combat experience after he, an artilleryman, was sent to an infantry unit as a forward observer.
“Our objective was an old farmhouse. I was carrying all my gear, plus half a radio. We came under small arms fire – and a lot of it – so I hit the ground, to take cover. A doughboy came up behind me and said, ‘Come on you so-and-so, get up and keep moving forward.’ So I picked up the radio and kept moving until I made it to the farmhouse. I kept moving foward. We all kept moving forward. That’s how we made it,” Wood said.
Nearly 75 years later, Wood – and the VFW Post he helped found – are still doing just that – moving forward.