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Decorated Vietnam War vet and brother die from coronavirus hours apart

A bouquet of roses, left to remember the dead, adorns the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., Sept. 17, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller/Released)

Twenty-three days after the older brother walked his younger brother to the ambulance, they died on the same day from COVID-19.

Vince “Woody” Woodward, 77, of Columbus died Monday morning from the coronavirus. That afternoon, Robert “Bob” Woodward, 70, of Phenix City also died from the virus.

In only two hours, the horrific impact of the pandemic that has caused more than 3 million infections and more than 250,000 deaths worldwide struck one Chattahoochee Valley family.

“Our family is in complete shock and are devastated,” Barbara Woodward Kane, daughter of Vince and niece of Bob, told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email interview Tuesday. “They were both vibrant men who were very healthy. … We know they both loved the Lord.”

Bob didn’t have any medical issues at the time he started feeling sick April 11, Kane said. Vince had mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she said, “but his doctors said he was 20 years younger health-wise.”

Vince died in Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon after being transported across Georgia from Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning for further treatment. Bob died at St. Francis-Emory Healthcare in Columbus.

Brothers fall ill

On April 11, the day before Easter, Bob called Vince and confided that he was having trouble breathing. Bob drove across the Chattahoochee River to Vince’s home, where Vince had a pulse oximeter that measured Bob’s oxygen level at only 70%.

They called 911.

Kane figures Bob contracted COVID-19 at his job because three coworkers also tested positive. And she thinks Vince got the virus from Bob that day.

“My dad, like the big brother he was, wouldn’t let Bob walk to the ambulance himself,” Kane said. “He waited outside with him for 15 minutes until the ambulance took him away to St. Francis.”

But, she emphasized, “I know my dad wouldn’t do anything different that fateful day.”

Bob was hospitalized for pneumonia. He was placed on a ventilator within 12 hours then intubated the next day as they waited for his coronavirus test result.

Three days later, Bob was diagnosed with COVID-19, and Kane posted on Facebook, “This virus isn’t playing around so neither should we — stay at home and use social distancing when you have to go out for groceries.”

Vince started feeling sick April 13. He was hospitalized at Fort Benning the next day. He was intubated 10 days later and flown to Fort Gordon on April 25.

Their wives also tested positive for the virus, but they haven’t had any symptoms, Kane said.

‘Vince led Bob through the gates of heaven’

Vince was married for 57 years to his wife, Gloria Woodward. In addition to Kane, their other children are Kathy Lanier and Kim Porteous.

Bob was married for 37 years to his wife, Tammy Woodward. Their children are Andrew Woodward and Michael Woodward. Bob’s stepchildren are Charlotte Henley and Steven Howell.

Vince retired from the U.S. Army as a major and a decorated Vietnam War veteran. His various jobs after his military service included working at GW Pest Control, Riverside Ford and Nix Printing.

Bob most recently worked for JBL Labs, where he helped make hand sanitizer. He also was an artist, hairdresser and mason.

Alton Russell, chairman of the Muscogee County Republican Party, has known the Woodward brothers since the 1970s, when Vince was chairman.

“Vince was a loyal friend,” Russell told the Ledger-Enquirer in a text message. “He was a servant to his God, his country and his family — a real American patriot and hero.”

Russell described Bob as “a fun and good friend to many, always with a smile and encouragement.”

The Woodward brothers were born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Cutler Ridge, Florida. Vince graduated from South Dade High School in 1960 and from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Bob graduated from Palmetto Ridge High School in 1968 and Miami Dade Community College.

Along with his involvement in the Republican Party, Vince was a volunteer at Fort Benning for the Red Cross and the JAG office. He led a fundraiser to feed people who were being sheltered at the Columbus Civic center after a hurricane.

Bob raised and trained Labrador retrievers for search and rescue operations.

The Woodward brothers were friends. They enjoyed attending Atlanta Braves and Columbus minor league hockey games together.

“Bob always followed his big brother around all his life,” Kane said. “… We know Vince led Bob through the gates of heaven.”

Funeral arrangements for the Woodward brother are pending.

“We will have a celebration of their lives as soon as it is possible,” Kane said.


© 2020 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer