LITTLE ROCK — Aside from his battered top hat, Jess "Woody" Woods was out of costume Monday at a Veterans Day ceremony in Little Rock’s River Market district.

LITTLE ROCK — Aside from his battered top hat, Jess "Woody" Woods was out of costume Monday at a Veterans Day ceremony in Little Rock’s River Market district.


Woods, who often performs as a clown, struggled for words as he tried to tell a reporter the emotions he was feeling after witnessing Gov. Mike Beebe and others pay tribute to people like him who served their country in the military.


"I’m very emotional right this moment. I normally don’t get that way," he said.


Woods, 90, was serving in the 4th Marine Division when he was among the first American troops to land at Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. The American forces captured the island from the Japanese after a five-week battle.


"That was the worst battle in Marine Corps history," he said. "We lost 7,000 men there. Very bad. I don’t know how to present it any better than that, other than it was terrible."


Woods has donated his World War II memorabilia to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History in Little Rock, but he has hung onto his hat, which was given to him by a friend whose uncle acquired it during the American Legion’s founding caucus in Paris in 1919. He said the museum will get the hat, now held together by generous applications of Elmer’s glue, after he dies.


He recommended that people visit the museum and ask to see his collection — especially his pinups of women such as Betty Grable, Heddy Lamarr and Rita Hayworth.


Several elected officials and office seekers were in the audience for Monday’s ceremony, including U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. The ceremony, presented by the state Department of Veterans Affairs, was among several observances held across the state Monday.


Beebe told the crowd at Little Rock that all men and women who wear or have worn a military uniform deserve to be thanked for their service. He noted that public sentiment against the Vietnam War often was directed against the people who fought the war.


"We should especially thank those Vietnam vets, because they didn’t get it when they came home," Beebe said.


Jack Grundy, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, said he experienced the hostility that the governor described.


"They’d call you baby killers and everything," he said. "But you had to do your job, or you wouldn’t be coming home."