Bu­gler plays taps each sun­set.

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY BRUCE HEN­DER­SON bhen­der­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

When dark falls, the peo­ple of a Matthews neigh­bor­hood lis­ten for the lonely mil­i­tary call that sig­nals a day’s end: A bu­gler play­ing Taps.

“I keep track of what time the sun goes down, step out on my front porch and play,” said for­mer Army Re­servist Don Wood­side. “If I for­get to play, I get phone calls from neigh­bors – ‘Are you sick?’ ”

There are sto­ries within the story, this Vet­er­ans Day, of Wood­side’s bugling. They’re tales of loss and re­mem­brance that be­gin be­fore World War II, re­count the tears shed for a fa­ther’s sac­ri­fice and are still play­ing out to­day.

Wood­side, 77, is a vol­un­teer with Bu­gles Across Amer­ica, which of­fers play­ers to per­form Taps at the fu­ner­als of mil­i­tary vet­er­ans. He also some­times sits at the Meck­len­burg County Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial, play­ing into the long, gran­ite arc to mag­nify his horn’s sound.

He does this to honor all those who served, but one in par­tic­u­lar: his late un­cle, Mil­ton Wood­side, a Char­lotte na­tive and World War II fighter pi­lot who sur­vived more than three bru­tal years as a pris­oner of war in Ja­pan.

After his 1940 grad­u­a­tion from The Ci­tadel, the Charles­ton mil­i­tary col­lege, Wood­side had en­tered flight school with the Army Air Corps and be­come a pi­lot of P-40 Warhawks, a sin­gle-en­gined fighter plane. In the sum­mer of 1941, the young sec­ond lieu­tenant was sta­tioned at Clark Field in the Philip­pines with the 20th Pur­suit Squadron.

The Ja­panese at­tacked Clark a day after they hit Pearl Har­bor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Most planes at the air­field were de­stroyed, but de­ter­mined crews man­aged to sal­vage a few P-40s. Wood­side was among the pi­lots who con­tin­ued tak­ing off from the bomb-cratered run­way to fight the Ja­panese.

“Fill it up, I’m go­ing back up,” Don Wood­side re­calls his un­cle say­ing in re­count­ing one mis­sion.

That was after the war, when Mil­ton Wood­side had re­turned home and be­come ad­min­is­tra­tor of what is now Samp­son Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Clin­ton. The for­mer pi­lot of­ten re­turned to Char­lotte to visit his par­ents and stayed at the Eas­tover home of Don Wood­side’s fam­ily. That’s where young Don gleaned what lit­tle his un­cle had to say about the war.

“You had to pull it out of him,” he said.

Mil­ton Wood­side’s old­est son, M.H. “Woody” Wood­side, 71, is him­self a 1970 Ci­tadel grad­u­ate who spent 22 years with the Ge­or­gia Army Na­tional Guard. Now pres­i­dent of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Cham­ber of Com­merce, he re­grets that he was never able to have long talks about the war with his fa­ther be­fore his death in 1973.

His­to­ries of com­bat in the Philip­pines flesh out his dad’s wartime ex­pe­ri­ences.

Wood­side was fly­ing with­out am­mu­ni­tion after man­ag­ing to take off from Clark Field when two Ja­panese Ze­ros at­tacked him from be­hind near Manila, ac­cord­ing to “Doomed at the Start,” a 1995 ac­count of U.S. pur­suit pi­lots in the Philip­pines. Once his plane’s in­stru­ment panel was shat­tered, the book said, Wood­side put his plane into a steep dive and bailed out.

That hap­pened on Dec. 10, 1941, Woody Wood­side said. His fa­ther had parachuted into friendly ter­ri­tory.

But as Ja­panese ground forces closed in over the fol­low­ing months, the U.S. aban­doned Clark Field and re­treated to the south­ern Bataan Penin­sula be­fore sur­ren­der­ing in April 1942.

The forced 65-mile march up the penin­sula of thou­sands of sick, hun­gry pris­on­ers, in­clud­ing Wood­side, be­came World War II lore. About 600 Amer­i­cans and at least 5,000 Filipinos died on what be­came known as the Bataan Death March, ac­cord­ing to Army his­tory.

Mil­ton Wood­side’s vivid ac­count of the march, ap­par­ently drawn from a post­war de­brief­ing, is quoted in “Deadly Sky,” a 2016 book on Amer­i­can com­bat air­men in World War II by mil­i­tary his­to­rian John McManus. Ja­panese sol­diers se­verely abused their pris­on­ers, he re­counted, deny­ing them wa­ter and at one point club­bing him for hid­ing a small can of beans.

“Any pris­oner be­com­ing ex­hausted and fall­ing out was ei­ther shot or bay­o­neted,” Wood­side says in that telling. “An Air Corps 2d Lt. march­ing next to me be­came ex­hausted and could go no fur­ther. Un­able to carry him, I helped him over be­hind some bushes to lay down ... (The) guard saw us and mo­tioned for me to go on. I left the man my can­teen of wa­ter and moved on. About 100 yds. on, I looked back to see the guard re­peat­edly bay­o­net­ing the sick man in the chest.”

An Army his­tory says the “de­lib­er­ate and ar­bi­trary cru­elty of some of the guards led to many of the deaths and im­mea­sur­ably in­creased the suf­fer­ing of those who man­aged to sur­vive.”


Wood­side was held pris­oner for nearly 31⁄ years at the Umeda prison camp in Osaka, his son said. Be­cause of his rank as an of­fi­cer – fel­low pris­on­ers fash­ioned crude avi­a­tor wings for him – the Ja­panese put him in charge of the 40 to 50 other pris­on­ers in his hut.

Pris­on­ers of the Ja­panese en­dured hellish con­di­tions. Apart from dis­ease and star­va­tion, an ac­count by the Army’s Cen­ter of Mil­i­tary His­tory says, pris­on­ers “had been beaten and kicked, had been forced to bow and to obey end­less petty rules in­vented by their cap­tors.”

“I still have his mil­i­taryis­sue Bible with names of all 20th Squadron folks with as­ter­isks by them – most had as­ter­isks, for death – that he car­ried with him while in prison,” Woody Wood­side said.

His fa­ther clung to one other pos­ses­sion, one that he had hid­den away: his gold Ci­tadel class ring.

When con­di­tions turned dire, the for­mer POW later told his nephew, he traded it to a Ja­panese guard in ex­change for food and wa­ter for his fel­low pris­on­ers.

In Au­gust of 1945, rel­a­tives say, Wood­side also wit­nessed the mys­te­ri­ous glow on the hori­zon of the two U.S. atomic bombs that ended the war.

He’d spent much of his years as a pris­oner dig­ging coal in Ja­pan. As U.S. troop­ers freed the pris­on­ers after Ja­pan’s sur­ren­der, Wood­side snatched up a grim prize: the bat­tered bu­gle that guards had used to wake up their pris­on­ers each morn­ing.


In 1953, back in North Carolina after a hero’s wel­come home and be­gin­ning his ca­reer in hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mil­ton Wood­side got a sur­prise call one day from the Philip­pines.

The caller was an Amer­i­can who come across a Ci­tadel ring, class of 1940, en­graved in­side with the ini­tials MHW, in a pawn shop. The man had con­tacted The Ci­tadel for help in iden­ti­fy­ing and lo­cat­ing the grad­u­ate.

“He said, Mr. Wood­side, did you have a Ci­tadel class ring that you lost in the war? I jumped up scream­ing and said, how much do you want for it? He said, just give me your ad­dress” and mailed it back, Don Wood­side re­called his un­cle say­ing.

That’s how the ring came home.

Woody Wood­side had lost his own Ci­tadel ring a few years after grad­u­at­ing in 1970. He started wear­ing his late fa­ther’s ring.

But he’d never known its his­tory un­til four years ago, when he vis­ited his cousin Don for the Belk Bowl foot­ball game be­tween Ge­or­gia and Louisville. The two vis­ited Char­lotte’s Louise Av­enue, where Mil­ton Wood­side had grown up. For the first time, Don Wood­side re­layed his un­cle’s tale of the lost and found ring.

“At the end of the story, I said, ‘I won­der what ever hap­pened to that ring?’ ” Don Wood­side said. “He said, look here – he pointed to his right hand and, boy, the tears came.”

Woody Wood­side: “Don told me the story that I never knew. It makes it even more mean­ing­ful, and I’m very grate­ful. I guess that the great­est gen­er­a­tion is about gone, and amaz­ingly enough, not that many talked that much about it. They went about their lives.”


That’s the story of the gold ring. The other story, of Don Wood­side and his bugling, con­tin­ues each day at sun­set.

At 5:25 p.m. Wed­nes­day, dressed in Army dress blues, Wood­side stepped onto his front stoop be­side the flag that flies there. He lifted the bu­gle in his right hand and, stock still, played the haunt­ing melody into the set­ting sun.

The notes came out slow and stately, and that’s for a rea­son. Wood­side had au­di­tioned for Bu­gles Across Amer­ica by phone about a year ago, and al­most didn’t make the cut. He played Taps too fast, his in­ter­viewer said. Try again.

“I play it with ‘honor and rev­er­ence,’ were the words I think he said,” Wood­side said.

He had pre­vi­ously played the flugel­horn, which re­sem­bles a trum­pet, dur­ing his daily Taps ren­di­tions. On Wed­nes­day he blew an­other in­stru­ment for the first time.

It had ar­rived in a pack­age that day from his cousin Woody: the bat­tered old bu­gle his un­cle had lib­er­ated from the Ja­panese cap­tors in 1945.

JOHN D. SIM­MONS jsim­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

Al­most ev­ery evening Don Wood­side, 77, plays Taps at dusk at his Matthews home. “If I for­get to play, I get phone calls from neigh­bors.”

Cour­tesy of Mil­ton Wood­side Jr.

The 1940 Ci­tadel ring, which Mil­ton Wood­side traded to a Ja­panese guard for food and wa­ter for his men, was found years later in a pawn shop.

Cour­tesy of Mil­ton Wood­side Jr.

Sec­ond Lt. Mil­ton Wood­side was pho­tographed at Clark Field in the Phillip­ines.

JOHN D. SIM­MONS jsim­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

When dark­ness falls on a Matthews neigh­bor­hood, res­i­dents know to lis­ten for the lonely mil­i­tary call that sig­nals a day’s end: A bu­gler play­ing Taps. For­mer Army Re­servist Don Wood­side plays to honor those who served.

Mil­ton Wood­side Jr.

2nd Lt. Mil­ton Wood­side listed the names of the men who served with him in the Army Air Corp’s 20th Pur­suit Squadron in­side the mil­i­tary-is­sue Bible he kept through­out War World II, in­clud­ing more than three years’ im­pris­on­ment by the Ja­panese. As­ter­isks be­side the names in­di­cate those who died.

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