Today’s veteran: Paul Woodberry
Born: Boston, Mass.
Residence: Sea Island
Service: Air Force, 4 years
Rank: 1st lieutenant
Duty stations: Korea, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Lackland Air Force Base
Recognitions: Air Medal; Korean Defense Service Medal; National Defense Service Medal; two Air Force Commendation Ribbons
His story: Paul Woodberry had just earned his MBA at Dartmouth University when the Korean War broke out.
“I realized that if there were a war, I would be drafted,” he said. “I was just about to be called up in 1946 when the government stopped the draft. The thought occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to serve my country.”
Woodberry said the Air Force appealed to him more than the Army, so he enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program. He graduated from the Air Force navigation school with the rank of 2nd lieutenant. He was award a trophy for outstanding academic achievement in his class, which included officers from West Point and Annapolis.
He was sent to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., where he trained on a B-26 bomber with a WWII pilot Al May, who was called to active duty when the Korean War started.
Woodberry and May were sent to Kimpo Air Force Base in South Korea, where they had a few training flights before they were sent on their first mission.
“On some missions, we would be bombing targets, but most of our missions would be night flights over North Korea, where we were assigned to get photos of specific targets by dropping flash bombs from about 8,000 feet,” he said. “When the flash bombs went off, the photo equipment in the plane would take a picture.”
The first mission was unsettling because he realized if his plane was shot down in North Korea the chances for survival were poor. But he was so busy during that first mission that the fear went away and never came back during his time there.
“Al and I planned each trip very carefully,” he said. “As soon as we were assigned targets, we went to the ready room. We laid out the maps and planned the alternative ways to get to the targets. We spent more time there than any other crew.”
Perhaps his biggest scare came when an air traffic controller gave instructions to land from a different direction because of some unusual winds.
Woodberry said he got to the plexiglass nose of the plane just as it was coming out of the clouds. He told the pilot to turn on the lights and he saw the plane was headed into an hill.
“‘Climb, climb, up, up,’ I yelled,” he said. “The plane slowly started climbing, and we just made it over the hill, by about 20 feet. I could clearly see the top of the hill below us. I can still see it.”
Everything happened so fast, there was no time to be scared, he said.
But the pilot made it very clear to the controller he would have crashed them into the hill if they would have followed his landing instructions.
“Since then, I have thought about this landing many times,” he said. “Whenever I think of that flight in April 1953, I should offer thanks to God that we did not crash that night.”
Woodberry described his tour of duty in South Korea as “great adventure.”
“I’m proud that I served,” he said. “I’m proud I volunteered.”