When soldiers in his infantry division were shipped to Vietnam, Jim Woods knew what he had to do.
The infantry officer and airborne ranger from Davidson was stationed at Oahu, Hawaii, and had just been given orders to attend advanced military school at Fort Benning, Ga. He got the orders rescinded so he could fight in Vietnam.
“I want to be with my men,” his brother, Davidson Mayor John Woods, recalls him saying.
Jim Woods died in an artillery explosion in the central highlands of Vietnam, at 3 p.m. Feb. 6, 1966, during a “search and clear” mission, his brother said. He was 25.
Jim Woods and his legacy of service will be immortalized on Friday, when the Woodlawn School dedicates its new classroom building as Woods Hall.
The private, nonprofit school on Presbyterian Road in south Iredell, just north of Davidson, emphasizes service as part of its mission. So Jim Woods was the perfect person to have his name on the building, said Greg Bridgeford, a parent of two children at the school who suggested the soldier's name.
Bridgeford, executive vice president of business development for Mooresville-based Lowe's Cos., turned to Davidson College archivist Jan Blodgett for help in researching soldiers of all wars from Davidson who'd died in service to their country.
Jim Woods graduated from North Mecklenburg High School in 1959 and from Davidson College in 1962.
He was a history major and a distinguished military graduate from the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at the college, John Woods told me at Davidson Town Hall last week.
Woods showed me photographs, including of Jim Woods at age 4 in a child-sized World War II uniform and hat. Jim Woods was commissioned into the Army as a lieutenant in June 1962.
Another photograph shows Jim Woods' son, Blaine, who turns 44 in December. The picture shows Blaine and his two sons staring up at Jim Woods' name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
Blaine, who grew up in Greensboro, was 14 months old when his dad died. Blaine and his mom, now Sheena Walker of Lake Tillery, are scheduled to attend Friday's ceremony.
John Woods, 59, described his brother as “a fun-loving, gregarious, patriotic great guy.”
“He died three days before my 17th birthday,” John Woods said. “It affected me greatly. We don't understand that life is as fragile as it is. I think about him every day. Every time I hear the National Anthem, I get a chill down my back. I stop and think about him for a second.”
Woods said he and his family agreed to have the building named after his brother so students and others will learn from his brother's life of service.
“The thing that attracted our family to this effort is that the school has as part of its academic agenda service to school, community and country,” John Woods said. “It's something our family has long believed in.”
The mayor's father, the late Dr. James B. Woods, served in the medical corps in World War II, and John Woods said the family has ancestors who served in the Civil War and Revolutionary War.
“We hope that students, and many more people, can learn from my brother's example and his service to community and country,” John Woods said.