S1c Horace Van Wood


S1c Horace Van Wood

Wills Point, Texas, a town 50 miles east of Dallas of about 2,000, was important to Horace Van “Benjy” Wood and three other men killed on the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941.

A fifth man who attended high school in Wills Point survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Mr. Wood, who was known as Van or “Benjy,” and his step-brother, Dee Cumpie “June” Ayers Jr., were two of those killed. Their cousin, Brooxey J. Johnston Jr., was the survivor.

Mr. Wood was born June 30, 1919 in Kaufman County near Wills Point. His father, Robert Burton Wood, was a farmer and his mother, Lousye Shepherd Wood, a homemaker. She died in January 1934.

A few years later, Robert Burton Wood remarried. His new wife, Nannie Johnston Ayers, had been widowed in 1937. Importantly, she was the mother of Dee Cumpie Ayers Jr. Hence, Horace and Dee Cumpie became stepbrothers.

Mr. Wood graduated from Wills Point High School in 1938 — the same school from which Mr. Ayers graduated in 1935 and which their cousin, Mr. Johnston, attended before transferring to Rusk High School about 80 miles to the southeast.

The three boys made up half of the basketball team at the Cobb School 5 miles to the west that won the 1932 Kaufman County junior championship.

The cousin, Mr. Johnston, was so close to the Ayers family that the 1930 Census showed him living with them. He was nine then.

Mr. Johnston was the first of the family to enlist in the Navy — on Aug. 9, 1940. He was a gunner’s mate and petty officer third class at the time of the attack. He was thrown overboard by an explosion but rescued. He continued to serve in World War II and in the Korean War. He retired as a lieutenant commander. He died in 1988 at the age of 67.

Mr. Wood enlisted next, on Oct. 12, 1940. He was a seaman first class at the time of his death. His body was never recovered — as was the case for most of the men on the ship.

Mr. Ayers was the last of the family to enlist, on March 7, 1941. He was a seaman first class when he died. He drowned and was identified by his name on his shorts. He is buried at White Rose Cemetery in Wills Point.

It is not clear how the three relatives ended up on the Arizona together, but it was common Navy practice to honor requests from men who wanted to serve together. The Navy thought it improved camaraderie. The policy mostly changed after November 1942 when five Iowa brothers, the Sullivans, all died in the sinking of their light cruiser, the U.S.S. Juneau.

The other two men with Wills Point ties who died on the Arizona were Allen Brady Fincher, who lived his whole life in the area until he joined the Marines in 1940, and Harvey Linville Havins, who was born in Wills Point but moved away in 1935 or early 1936 at about age 21.


Sources: Special thanks to Terry W. Wood, a nephew of Horace Van Wood for much of the information and the photograph; also to Larry Turner of Wills Point, who has spent considerable time researching the local men on the Arizona; Census, Texas death records. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

NOTE: If you are a family member related to this crew member of the U.S.S. Arizona, or have additional information, pictures or documents to share about his life or service to our county please contact us through our FAMILY MEMBER SUBMISSION FORM