Duane Wood: Not Your Typical Teacher


Sophia Paiste, Writer

        A hero in our midst? It would be incorrect to say that one of Shawnee’s own, Mr. Duane Wood, is just a typical special education teacher. Mr. Wood actually has a past working as a secret service agent.

         Two weeks after graduating from the University of Southern California, Mr. Wood got drafted into the army (3 ½ years in Vietnam). After serving in the army, he went to work for the Los Angeles City Police Department, where he was a patrolman for two years.

         Around the time that Mr. Wood was a patrolman, the secret service for the president of the United States (at the time, Richard Nixon) was looking for younger people to hire. This was because of Nixon’s daughters going to the University of Maryland, and younger agents would be more easily concealed in the crowd. When the secret service started looking for potential agents in bigger cities, they were specifically searching for people with either police or military experience, and Mr. Wood had both. He was then hired to protect former president Nixon’s daughters.

         Sundays with Nixon was the worst detail to be assigned, according to Mr. Wood, because the former president would go to the residence (third floor of the white house) and, while he was not athletic himself, he believed he could be a football coach, even getting a direct telephone line to the Redskins stadium. Nixon would try to spot weaknesses in plays by George Allen, then would suggest to the former Redskins coach new plays. If a play Nixon saw was good, he would claim it was what he came up with and suggested. In 1974, Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal.

          Nixon was replaced by Gerald Ford, and former president Ford became who Mr. Wood had to protect. People weren’t very fond of Ford because they preferred Nixon. Just two months into Ford’s first year of presidency, an attempt was made on his life by a member of the Manson family (Charles Manson’s cult), Lynette Fromme. From being a patrolman, Mr. Wood had walked by the courthouse during Charles Manson’s trial and he saw Lynette, along with most of the Manson family, on several occasions. When in Sacramento with Ford, Mr. Wood recognized her in the crowd and kept a watchful eye on her, which is why when she came closer to former president Ford, Mr. Wood alerted the other agents that a problem could easily occur. When Lynette pulled a gun from her cape, he and another agent were able to disarm Lynette Fromme. After the attempt by Fromme, Mr. Wood got offered to choose his detail and decided to remain by the president’s side for the rest of his service.

          After Ford lost the 1976 election, Mr. Wood was assigned to protect president Jimmy Carter. Carter was supposedly difficult to work for and never stated when he was going to do something, rather he often acted impulsively. Carter excused those who fled to Canada to avoid getting drafted, causing secret service agents to dislike him a great deal.

          Ford lost the election in 1980 to president Ronald Reagan, and Mr. Wood then took over Reagan’s protective detail. According to Mr. Wood, Reagan was “just exactly the opposite of President Ford: very friendly, very easy to work for. One of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.” A few months into his presidency, John Hinckley Jr. made an attempt on Reagan’s life. While Hinckley didn’t successfully assassinate Reagan, he wounded him under the arm. Reagan’s top agent noticed that the former president was bleeding from his mouth and nobody knew the cause. Blood beginning to froth indicated to the agent that Reagan was bleeding into his lungs. The agent alerted Mr. Wood and they all headed to the hospital, but as soon as all the agents got Reagan into the hospital, he collapsed. 

          George H.W Bush became the new president in 1989 and was the former head of the CIA. According to Mr. Wood, H.W Bush was very easy to work with, and Mrs. Bush was like a grandmother to all the agents; she would make birthday cakes and cookies and did all she could to make a home-like atmosphere. The Bushes wouldn’t leave the White House until the day after Christmas so that all the agents could be with their families. 

           Bill Clinton was elected president next in 1992 and was “gregarious,” making him constantly late and causing him to be difficult to work for. A president’s day is typically fully planned, however, Clinton would continuously stop and talk to people he found to be interesting. Clinton was slightly overweight and enjoyed jogging with the agents. Every morning he would wake and go for a jog… To McDonald’s, at which he would get hamburgers and a milkshake, then in the limo on the way home, he would change his clothes to prepare for his busy day.

          George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. He was very stubborn, just like his father, and enjoyed athletics. Mr. Wood was with Mr. Bush in Sarasota, Florida, when the 9/11 attacks happened, completely unaware that it was a terror attack until the second plane hit the other tower. Mr. Bush was almost entirely vulnerable at an elementary school in Sarasota, so the first concern of the agents was to get him back on Air Force One and head to a more secure location. Eventually, Bush was taken to an underground bunker where he could communicate with everyone, then he was taken to an airfield in Oklahoma, but he insisted he go back to the White House to make a speech to prove to the people that he was standing with them and to show the attackers that he was perfectly fine.

         In 2002, when Mr. Wood turned fifty-five, he was forced to retire, and he did so one day shy of his birthday. Mr. Wood and his wife moved to Florida at that point and he became the director of security for the Ft. Lauderdale School District for about ten years. After those ten years, they moved to Long Beach Island to be near his wife’s family. Mr. Wood has been teaching at Shawnee ever since, beginning as a substitute teacher and getting a permanent job here three years ago. While Mr. Wood loved his exciting job as a secret service agent, where unpredictability only added to the adrenaline caused by it, he’s very happy here at Shawnee with all of its own uncertainty!