Francis M. Woods

NAME
Francis Meredith Woods
NICKNAME
SERVICE NUMBER
297587
UNIT
Marine detachment,
USS Lexington
HOME OF RECORD
Route 4, Hico, TX
NEXT OF KIN
Brother, Mr. Fred H. Woods
DATE OF BIRTH
June 22, 1920
ENTERED SERVICE
September 4, 1940
DATE OF LOSS
May 8, 1942
REGION
Southwest Pacific
CAMPAIGN / AREA
Coral Sea
CASUALTY TYPE
Killed In Action
CIRCUMSTANCES OF LOSS
PFC Woods was a member of the Marine detachment aboard the carrier USS Lexington. His battle station was in 5-inch Gallery 2 (port side forward), on Gun #6.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea, at 1122 on 8 May 1942, a bomb exploded in his gun’s ammunition locker. The entire crew was killed or mortally wounded by the blast.

PFC Woods’ remains went down with his ship.

INDIVIDUAL DECORATIONS
Letter of Commendation, Purple Heart
LAST KNOWN RANK
Private First Class
STATUS OF REMAINS
Lost at sea.
MEMORIALS
Manila American Cemetery

Francis Meredith Woods was born in Mineral Wells, Texas on June 22, 1920. His father (also named Francis) worked as a theatrical manager to support the family; when he died of an acute stomach ailment in 1927, the widowed Gladys Woods was left to raise young Francis, younger Fred, and an infant daughter, Patricia Marcene. The boys spent some time as wards of the state – both were living at the State Orphan House in Navarro, per the 1930 census – but Gladys eventually remarried and brought her children to live in Hamilton with her new husband, John Romans. The blended family grew to include two more girls, Ernestine and Connie Romans.

Gladys died suddenly in 1940, shortly after Francis’ eighteenth birthday. That September, he decided to enlist in the Marine Corps, and departed for boot camp at MCRD San Diego. After finishing his boot training with the 4th Recruit Battalion and serving some time in the base mess hall, Private Woods was selected for Sea School. In early 1941, he joined the Marine detachment aboard the carrier USS Lexington.

Marines on the “Lex” served a number of different duties as shipboard guards, officer’s orderlies, and gunners for the big carrier’s defensive armament. Woods was assigned to the latter detail, and showed considerable proficiency: he was promoted to Private First Class during his first few months aboard, and held the position of gun pointer for a 5-inch gun mounted in a battery alongside the flight deck.

Fortunately, the Lexington was at sea on December 7, 1941; had she been berthed at Pearl Harbor, the big carrier would have been a prime target for the Japanese air attack. As it turned out, her crew would get their chance to strike back in May, 1942 as the battle of the Coral Sea.

PFC Woods heard the call to General Quarters early in the morning of May 8, 1942; he was at his position as pointer of Gun 6, #2 Antiaircraft Battery before 0600, and watched the carrier’s air group take off for another strike at the Japanese fleet.

At around 1100 hours, the Marines on the antiaircraft batteries were warned that many enemy aircraft were approaching. The Japanese were soon in range; every gun on the Lexington began spitting fire, and the big carrier began weaving and turning in evasive maneuvers. They had no luck; at approximately 1125, following two torpedo strikes, a bomb struck the flight deck near Gun #6, penetrated an ammunition ready locker, and set off the gunpowder stored there. The resulting explosion destroyed Gun #6, killed or wounded the entire crew, and caused havoc with nearby Gun #4.

This US Navy photograph, taken on the afternoon of 8 May 1942, shows the remnants of Gun #6. Twelve Marines were burned to death or blown overboard; the rest of the crew died of their wounds.

Click here for more views of the Marine gun gallery.

PFC Woods was killed in the explosion that wiped out the crew of Gun #6. He would be commended with seventeen other men in an official dispatch:

They remained at their posts efficiently performing assigned duties during strafing, explosions of torpedoes in the near vicinity of the battery, and after an aerial bomb had exploded and fired a locker of heavy ammunition at the battery. They extinguished the fire, policed the battery and readied the only remaining serviceable gun for further defense of the ship. As a result of their actions, they efficiently assisted in the defense of LEXINGTON by fast, accurate fire under extremely difficult circumstances.

The disabled Lexington was deliberately sunk by the American destroyer Phelps later that day. She took the bodies of more than 200 sailors and Marines – including PFC Woods – to their grave in the Coral Sea.

The wreck of the Lexington was found in March, 2018.


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