BY MELANIE WADE –
Colonel Billy Ray Wood, a retired veteran who makes his home in Mena, will be inducted into the seventh class of the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame on Saturday, November 4th, in a ceremony that will be held at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock. U.S. Senator John Boozman will present the awards to each of the 15 inductees with a special medallion marking the occasion.
The Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame was introduced in 2011 and since then, organizers have been trying to find a permanent home for the display that honors all inductees. This year, organizers are pleased to announce the display will be housed in the Arkansas State Treasurer’s office, which is located in the State Capitol.
Col. Wood is a retired Army Veteran with more than 5,000 helicopter flight hours and a veteran of the Vietnam War. Wood retired 20 years ago. He grew up in Polk County for a time where his father owned a manganese mill in the Board Camp area. Wood also worked in the Pentagon for a time where he flew senators and generals.
In a 2016 presentation to the Mena Lions Club, Woods said of his time in Vietnam, “All I did was fly infantry soldiers to and from work everyday.” What he didn’t say was that it was no normal commute, taking on gunfire many times while trying to fly from one point to another. “We attempted to give democracy to the Vietnam people but you cannot give democracy. You have to be willing to fight for it, not have it handed to you.”
As for his nomination to the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame, Wood said, “I am very, very honored. I am so thankful to be alive today and my wife, Carolyn, and I are anticipating having 23 family and friends from Vietnam and Mena that will join us at the ceremony in Little Rock.” Wood is proud to say that “folks that served in the same aviation unit I served with from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Wisconsin,” are all coming to the ceremony. “I am just honored. These are people that I would stand up for and put my life on the line for – wonderful wonderful friends.”
Wood was nominated by Retired U.S. Navy Captain John Robert “Bob” Young who was a helicopter pilot in the navy and served in Vietnam as well. “We are in the American Legion together and we go to men’s breakfast together. We have an entire table at Tuesday morning breakfast that are retired military – airforce, navy, army. We’re just a group of retired military veterans that are very fortunate to be alive today.”
Wood is also part of the Polk County Honor Guard that provides military honors at veterans’ funerals and memorial services. He served for a total of 28.5 years. He was inducted into the Field Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in May 1998. He is proud to say, “I have a son that retired from the military. He was in the army as a Lieutenant Colonel and flew helicopters and airplanes. I have a daughter that is a private pilot. The Wood family is aviation oriented,” he smiled.
To become an inductee, a veteran must be nominated via their website, www.amvhof.org. Around 50 nominations are received each year before being narrowed down to 15 inductees by a committee. Inductees are chosen for both public service and valor.
To attend Saturday’s banquet, tickets are $55 per person, or $500 for a table of ten. Reservations can be made by calling 1-888-329-3845.