Wood, Alan Stevenson, LTJG

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Last Rank
Lieutenant Junior Grade
Last Primary NEC
110X-Unrestricted Line Officer - No Specialty Engagement
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1942-1945, 110X, USS No Name (LST-779)
Service Years
1944 - 1946
Lieutenant Junior Grade
Lieutenant Junior Grade

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by the Site Administrator to remember Wood, Alan Stevenson, LTJG.
Contact Info
Home Town
Last Address
Sierra Madre, CA

Date of Passing
Apr 18, 2013
Location of Interment
Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery - Sierra Madre, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

WW II Honorable Discharge Pin

 Unofficial Badges 

Order of the Shellback US Navy Honorable Discharge Order of the Golden Dragon

 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Alan Wood dies at 90; provided Iwo Jima flag in World War II
April 25, 2013|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times
A Navy officer in World War II, Alan Wood provided the flag that was raised on Iwo Jima and that was captured in an iconic photo. Alan Wood never claimed to be a hero, but he did play a supporting role in one of World War II's most stirring moments. It was at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. Straining into the wind, five Marines and a Navy corpsman planted the Stars and Stripes on the rocky peak of Mt. Suribachi. As the flag unfurled, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured what may have been the war's most iconic image, a shot that inspired monuments and made the Iwo Jima flag-raisers instantly famous. Wood, a 22-year-old Navy officer, wasn't among them. But it was Wood who provided the flag — a small act that would always remind him of the epic sacrifices made by so many on that desolate island 750 miles south of Tokyo.
"The fact that there were men among us who were able to face a situation like Iwo where human life is so cheap, is something to make humble those of us who were so very fortunate not to be called upon to endure any such hell," he wrote in a 1945 letter to a Marine general who asked for details about the flag.
Wood, who went on to spend nearly five decades as a technical artist and public information officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, died April 18 at his Sierra Madre home. He was 90 and had congestive heart failure, his son, Steven Wood, said.
Wood was in charge of communications on LST-779, one of many landing ships that disgorged tanks and construction equipment on Iwo Jima's shores. Beached close to the base of Mt. Suribachi, his ship was boarded one morning during the five-week battle by a tired Marine seeking the biggest flag he could find.
After heavy fighting, U.S. forces had managed to scale the 500-foot peak and hoist an American flag from a length of blasted water pipe. But top U.S. officials on the island called for a larger flag — perhaps, according to some accounts, because Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who was witnessing the battle, asked for the first one as a memento.
Wood gave the young Marine a 37-square-foot flag he had discovered months before in a Pearl Harbor Navy depot. That was the flag whose raising was photographed by Rosenthal in what the 1945 Pulitzer Prize committee called "a frozen flash of history."
As for Wood, a lieutenant junior grade by the end of the war, "he didn't talk much about it," his son said. "He didn't draw attention to himself. He was just there when someone needed a flag and he gave it to them."
Over the years, others have claimed that they provided the flag, but retired Marine Col. Dave Severance, who commanded the company that took Mt. Suribachi, said this week in an interview that it was Wood.
"I have a file of more than 60 people who claim to have had something to do with the flags," he said from his home in La Jolla.
About 6,800 U.S. troops died on Iwo Jima's eight square miles. Japanese losses were estimated at more than 20,000.
Born in Pasadena on May 3, 1922, Alan Stevenson Wood came from one of the Sierra Madre area's pioneering families. He earned a bachelor's degree in history at UC Berkeley. A talented watercolorist, he studied at the Art Center in Pasadena before joining JPL in 1958.
As a spokesman for the lab, he helped coordinate news coverage of the Mariner, Viking, Voyager and Galileo spacecraft missions.
Active until his final years, he drove an RV to a former colleague's wedding in Wyoming when he was 87.
Wood's wife, Elizabeth, died in 1985. He is survived by his son Steven of Solana Beach and three grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Sierra Madre Episcopal Church of the Ascension. Burial will follow at Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery.
The flags of Iwo Jima are on rotating display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA.
Other Comments:
Battle of Iwo Jima: Alan Wood and the Famous Flag on Mount Suribachi  
Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 

The time and the place were prophetic. It was early 1945, and the place was Pearl Harbor, site of the surprise attack that plunged the United States into World War II.

The war's final year was but a few days old, and the landing ship, tank LST-779 was in Pearl Harbor for extended training maneuvers in anticipation of landing on Iwo Jima. Lieutenant junior grade Alan Wood, of Sierra Madre, Calif., was serving as the LST's communications officer at the time. "It was our first operation, and naturally we were a little excited," he recalled. "We knew it would be pretty important because Iwo was so close to Japan."

During the ship's stay in Hawaii, Wood and several signalmen visited a Navy salvage depot. Wood, who was responsible for LST-779's flags, recalled: "I was just rummaging around looking for anything that might be of use when I found this apparently brand-new flag in a duffel bag with some old signal flags. It was a large flag, and I was glad to find it because we were out of large flags. Little did I know how famous it would one day become."

Wood figured that the flag was probably from some decommissioned vessel, although he did not know where it actually came from and has since wondered about its origins. "We carried the flag on our long trek to Iwo," he remembered, "and it flew several times from our gaff on Sundays—it being the one large flag we had."

After stops at the islands of Eniwetok and Saipan for further battle orientation, LST-779 set out on the last leg to Iwo Jima. On board were a company of Marines and their 155mm howitzers, as well as reserves of ammunition and high-octane gasoline.

In a letter to a friend (which on November 19, 1945, found its way into the Congressional Record), Wood described his first impressions of the battle for Iwo Jima. "On the 19th of February—a clear, cool, beautiful day—we rolled up to Iwo, which was a mass of smoke and dust," he wrote. "The big ships of the Navy circled the island and were leisurely pumping a steady barrage of shells at it. Overhead our planes buzzed and roared as wave after wave dove at the beaches and Mount Suribachi. It didn't seem possible there could be a living thing left on Iwo when the Marines got there. It looked like a pushover. But that afternoon as we cruised around, several thousand yards off the beach, we could tell by looking through binoculars that the Japs were doing a lot of fighting back."

Wood and his shipmates could see burning tanks and landing craft. They were dismayed as they watched Japanese mortars and artillery brutally pummeling the U.S. Marines pinned down all along the beach. Then the call came for help—the howitzers were desperately needed. LST-779 headed for the beach. Through a mix-up, two other LSTs that were also supposed to land did not show up for two more days.

"The beach was a madhouse of men, supplies and noisy vehicles," Wood wrote his friend. "Suribachi was a few thousand yards down the beach on our left, and the front line, marked by some entrenched tanks, was only a few hundred yards down the beach. Occasionally you could hear the spatter of small-arms fire, and all too often a big Jap mortar would explode with a shattering burst, and with terrible finality, right on the beach in the midst of all the men, supplies and machines."

Unloading LST-779 took the afternoon and most of the night—a night that Wood declared he would never forget: "That pale moon, the eerie yellow star shells, the black grotesque outline of Suribachi, the occasional burst of a shell, sometimes close at hand, and the continual clank and groan of the tracked vehicles unloading our ship, and the wash of surf on the wreckage which littered the shore line. There was a feeling of death in the air that was overpowering—almost stimulating—which prevented any weary eyes from closing for any length of time."

A pre-dawn Japanese mortar barrage threatened the LST, which was still loaded with large reserves of gasoline and ammunition. Mortar rounds fell dangerously close to the ship. "Shrapnel spraying against the steel plates sounded like someone was throwing handfuls of gravel at us," Wood remembered. "How we missed being hit I don't know. If we had, the result would have been disastrous." The skipper of the LST wisely decided to pull out, since, for a time, the critical cargo had been unloaded. After two days spent a safe distance from the island, the ship was again beached, this time closer to Mount Suribachi.

Late in the morning on February 23, the Marines managed to secure Mount Suribachi and raised a small flag. But the little banner seemed insufficient to properly acknowledge the Americans' momentous accomplishment. A battle-weary Marine appeared aboard LST-779, which was beached closest to the mountain in a long line of LSTs. As Wood recalled, the Marine asked to borrow a large flag. Wood asked him, "What for?" and the Marine responded, "Don't worry. You won't regret it." Wood got approval from his skipper for the loan, which, of course, became a donation.

"I barely remember the Marine who came aboard to get the flag," Wood said later, "and I don't know if he was one of the group which raised the flag or not. He was dirty and looked tired, and had several days' growth of beard on his face….Even though he couldn't have been more than 18 or 19, he looked like an old man….I have looked carefully at the pictures of the men who raised the flag, but I recognize none of them."

When the inspiring photograph of the flag-raising atop Iwo Jima's barren Mount Suribachi was seen nationwide, war-weary Americans rededicated themselves to the cause for which the Marines and Navy had fought and for which nearly 6,000 of them had died on the island. But aside from the inspirational value of the American accomplishment on Iwo Jima, the victory there was extremely important to the war effort. In wresting the island from the Japanese, American forces had won an air base that would save the lives of hundreds of Allied airmen returning from raids on Japan with crippled aircraft or near-empty fuel tanks.

Joe Rosenthal's dramatic photo—which later won a Pulitzer Prize—spoke volumes of hope and determination to Americans yearning for peace. Today, more than half a century after the flag was photographed on Iwo Jima, most Americans have either seen the famous Rosenthal photo or visited the Iwo Jima Memorial modeled after it in Washington, D.C.

In the days that followed the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi in 1945, Wood wrote his mother about the part he had played in providing the now famous flag. Mrs. Wood, in turn, wrote to the War Department, explaining her son's involvement. Alan Wood later heard from Brig. Gen. Robert L. Denig, director of the U.S. Marine Corps Division of Public Information in Washington, who requested details.

Wood once again told his story, heaping praise on the Marine combat troops. He wrote on July 7, 1945: "Because we were the first LST to beach at Iwo, and because we experienced a little of the deadliness of the Jap fire there, the crew of the 779 is, naturally, proud that our flag was flown from Suribachi. However, speaking for myself—and yet I am sure there are many others aboard who feel the same—the part we played in the invasion of Iwo Jima was pretty small compared to the willing and simple heroism with which the Marines did their bloody job. The fact that there were men among us who were able to face a situation like Iwo where human life is so cheap, is something to make humble those of us who were so very fortunate not to be called upon to endure any such hell."

After it flew on Iwo Jima, the ceremonial flag was preserved by the Marines. In a letter to Wood, Denig told him that the flag had been taken on tour to promote the sale of war bonds. Today it is displayed in the U.S. Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va. The flag Wood rescued from dusty obscurity has become perhaps the most celebrated and cherished Stars and Stripes since Francis Scott Key's immortal "Star-Spangled Banner."

In the years that followed the war, Wood found himself involved in another great national quest, one some have called "the moral equivalent of war"—the space program. In 1950, he joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena as a graphic artist. At the time, the JPL was heavily involved in guided missile research and rocketry. By the late 1950s, however, the JPL—the high-technology research and development arm of California State Polytechnic University and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—found itself headed for space. In response to the Soviets' launching of the satellite Sputnik, the United States—with the help of the JPL—launched Explorer I.

At the JPL, Al Wood drifted into the Public Affairs Division and began developing daily status reports for nearly all the organization's major space shots. He made it his business to understand and explain the nuts and bolts of highly complex engineering and scientific concepts in order to provide knowledgeable and informative updates.

The JPL's Ranger spacecraft series went to Mars, and Surveyor landers helped pave the way for the Apollo 11 moon landing. On numerous unmanned space missions, through his telephone status reports, Wood became known as "The voice of…" whatever the JPL was involved in at the time. The grand tour of the twin Voyager spacecraft to the outer planets and later the Galileo spacecraft's mission to Jupiter were among the complex space missions interpreted for the media and the public by the former naval officer who had helped to create a symbolic moment during America's struggle for peace.
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Surface Vessels USS No Name
  1942-1945, 110X, USS No Name (LST-779)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1942-1945 World War II
 Colleges Attended 
University of California, BerkeleyPasadena City College
  1940-1944, University of California, Berkeley
  1946-1947, Pasadena City College
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