Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining World War II Medal of Honor recipient whose exploits under fire during several pivotal hours in the Battle of Iwo Jima made him a legend, died Wednesday in his native West Virginia. He was 98.
Williams’ foundation announced on Twitter and Facebook that he died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Huntington, W.Va., which bears his name.
“America lost today not only a brave Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient, but also a vital link in our nation’s fight against tyranny in World War II,” said US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. in a statement. “I hope every American will pause to reflect on their service and that of a generation that has sacrificed so much to defend the cause of freedom and democracy.”
As a young Marine Corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated a number of Japanese machine gun positions in Iwo Jima, where Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, a moment captured in one of history’s most famous war photographs. Williams said he saw the flag from afar after it went up as troops celebrated around him.
Later that year, at the age of 22, Williams received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military bravery, from President Harry Truman at the White House.
“For me, receiving the Medal of Honor was actually a lifesaver because it forced me to speak out about my experience, which was therapy I didn’t even know I was doing,” Williams said during a Boy Scout recognition 2018 ceremony, according to the Times West Virginian newspaper.
William’s actions in combat to clear the way for American tanks and infantry are detailed on the US military’s Medal of Honor website. He was “quick to offer his services when our tanks maneuvered in vain to open a path for infantry through the network of reinforced concrete bunkers, buried mines and black volcanic sand. Williams boldly went it alone to try to reduce the devastating machine gun fire from the relentless positions,” the website said.
Williams fought handguns for four hours, returning again and again to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers.
Williams remained in the Marines after the war, serving a total of 20 years before serving 33 years as a veterans service representative for the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 2018, the VA Medical Center in Huntington was renamed in his honor, and the Navy commissioned a mobile base seagoing vessel in his name in 2020. In February 2018, Williams and 14 other Medal of Honor recipients were honored during the coin toss before Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
Williams may not have garnered as much national attention as another West Virginian-born Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, the flamboyant World War II fighter pilot ace who became the first human to fly faster than sound in 1947. Yeager passed away in December 2020. Still, Williams was a household name in his home state.
Williams was born on October 2, 1923, the youngest of a family of eleven on a dairy farm in the township of Quiet Dell in northern West Virginia. Before joining the military, he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and as a teenager worked as a taxi driver in Fairmont, sometimes delivering Western Union telegrams to the families of fallen soldiers.
It was this passion that later led Williams and his Louisville, Kentucky-based charitable foundation to raise money for and erect more than 100 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments to honor loved ones of lost servicemen across the United States his site.
Although his two older brothers served in the Army, Williams wanted to pursue a different path. He knew some Marines from his area and would admire their blue uniforms whenever they came home. But at 5ft 6, Williams was turned down because of his height when he tried to join in 1942. A year later, the Marines admitted him at the age of 19.
Williams later said he relied on his fiancée, Ruby, to get him through the often anxious times during the war when he told himself he needed to get back to the girl he was going to marry.
Their marriage lasted 62 years. Ruby Williams died in 2007 at the age of 83. The couple had two daughters and five grandchildren.
https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2022-07-01/woody-williams-last-medal-of-honor-recipient-from-world-war-ii-iwo-jima-dies Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from WWII, dies at 98