The Volunteers: Leadership in the Face of Great Challenge by Anthony Wood, Colonel (Retired), United States Marine Corps
Description of Speech: Told by the Officer involved, this is an incredible true story of a band of ordinary American civilians who faced down danger and performed an extraordinary feat to save thousands of people during the 1975 evacuation of Saigon, Vietnam.
When I saw the title of the keynote I felt a tingling sensation shooting down my spine. Of all the potential inspirational speeches, this one is about the evacuation of Americans from Vietnam in 1975. Who would have thought?
His evacuation story was pretty amazing. Against the US Ambassador’s order at the time not to evacuate Americans from Vietnam, Colonel Wood, at the time a Captain, organized a volunteer force of approximately 100 people, all civilian expats living in VN at the time, e.g. auditors, local heads of US companies, journalists, homemakers, security, to evacuate 5,000 people (1,500 US and 3,500 Vietnamese). They organized and built landing zones on rooftops, organized buses with “fake police escorts”, and jerry-rigged communication network out of walkie-talkie and water towers antennas. This effort is independent from the evacuation shown on TV from the US Embassy.
At the end of the speech, I stood up and said I was there in a basement in 1975, hiding from the shelling on Saigon by the North Vietnamese. And 40 years later, I am at the conference presenting a topic about how US companies can do business in Vietnam. Oh, the irony of history.
Here is Colonel Wood’s bio:
- Colonel Anthony Wood is best known for his heroic role in the evacuation of Saigon in April of 1975 at the close of the Vietnam War. The then Captain Wood organized a group of American civilian volunteers who assumed great personal risk to remain without protection and evacuate over 5,000 persons from the collapsing Capital to the safety of waiting Marine helicopters.
- At the height of the Cold War, Major Wood developed a strategic prepositioning concept that enabled rapid deployment and assembling of Marine Corps forces in three oceanic theaters.
- Later as Chief of Staff of Marine Forces in the Pacific, Colonel Wood journeyed to Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. There he was charged with negotiating a tension reduction agreement with the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Russian Far East Military District, a bilateral agreement that remains in force today.
- As Founder and First Commander of the Marine Corps War Fighting Laboratory, Colonel Wood led and inspired an institution where groundbreaking and unorthodox experiments were directly responsible for a host of critical improvements in the Marine Corps combat capability.
- On his retirement from the Marine Corps in July 1998, he was the only Colonel or Captain in any of the U.S. Armed Services to have twice been decorated with the nation’s second highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. He also earned the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with Combat V, the meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation medal, the Humanitarian Assistance Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon.
- After his military career, Colonel Wood became the Director for Applied Research at the California Polytechnic State University’s Collaborative Agent Design Research Center as well as Vice President, COO and Partner in CDM Technologies, Inc., an advanced software development company. Since the sale of CDM Technologies to Boeing in 2011, Colonel Wood has continued to serve in a variety of capacities on boards and as both a consultant and inspirational speaker on leadership to senior executives and audiences of all types.