Woody Williams, last WWII Medal of Honor recipient, dead at 98

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last World War II Medal of Honor recipient, whose heroism under fire for several crucial hours at the Battle of Iwo Jima made him a legend in his West Virginia native, died Wednesday. He was 98 years old.

Williams’ foundation announced on Twitter and Facebook that he died at the Veterans Medical Center named after him in Huntington.

“Today, America lost not just a gallant Marine and Medal of Honor recipient, but an important connection to our nation’s fight against tyranny during World War II,” the U.S. Secretary said. to the Defense, Lloyd Austin, in a press release. “I hope every American will pause to reflect on their service and that of an entire generation that has sacrificed so much in the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As a young Marine corporal, Williams got ahead of his unit in February 1945 and took out a series of Japanese machine gun positions.

Later that year, at age 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, getting the Medal of Honor was actually the lifeline because it forced me to talk about the experiences that I had, which was therapy that I didn’t even know I was doing,” said Williams during a 2018 Boy Scouts recognition ceremony at Fairmont, according to The Times West Virginian.

Iwo Jima was where the Marines planted the American flag on Mount Suribachi, a moment captured in one of the most iconic wartime photographs in history. Williams said he saw the flag from afar after it was raised as the troops around him celebrated.

Williams’ actions in combat to clear the way for American tanks and infantry were detailed on the Army’s Medal of Honor website: He was “quick to offer his services when our tanks were maneuvering in vain to open a path for the infantry through the network of reinforcements. concrete casemates, buried mines and black volcanic sands. Williams dared to advance alone in an attempt to reduce the devastating machine gun fire from the adamant positions.

Facing small-arms fire, Williams fought for four hours, returning repeatedly to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers.

“His unwavering determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strongpoints encountered by his regiment and vitally aided in enabling his company to ‘achieve its goal,’ the website reads.

Williams remained in the Marines after the war, serving a total of 20 years, before working for the Veterans Administration for 33 years as a veterans service representative.

In 2018, the Huntington VA Medical Center was renamed in his honor and the Navy commissioned a Mobile Base Sea Vessel in his name in 2020. In February 2018, Williams was joined by 14 other medal recipients. honor to be honored by the NFL and the nation in the pre-Super Bowl coin toss in Minneapolis.

Williams may not have garnered as much national attention as Air Force Brig. General Chuck Yeager, the flamboyant World War II fighter pilot and West Virginia native who became the first person to fly faster than sound in 1947. Yeager died in December 2020. Yet in his state of Originally, Williams was a household name.

“Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for all he gave to our state and our nation,” the governor said. Jim Justice in a statement.

US Senator Joe Manchin said Williams “was the epitome of a true American hero. Americans like Woody have answered the call to serve our great nation, and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear.

Williams was born the youngest of 11 on a dairy farm on October 2, 1923, in the community of Quiet Dell in northern West Virginia. Before joining the military, he served in the Civilian Conservation Corps and worked as a teenage taxi driver in Fairmont, sometimes delivering Western Union telegrams to families of fallen soldiers.

It was this passion that later drove Williams and his Louisville, Kentucky-based nonprofit foundation to raise funds and establish more than 100 Gold Star Families memorials in recognition of military loved ones lost across the United States, according to its website.

Although her two older brothers were serving in the military, Williams wanted to take a different path. He knew Marines in his area and admired their blue uniforms every time they came home. But at 5ft 6in, Williams was rejected due to his height when he tried to join in 1942. A year later the Marines cleared him at 19.

Williams leaned on his fiancée, Ruby, to get him through the often anxious times of war, saying he needed to find the Fairmont 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 grandsons.

Services will be held Sunday at 4 p.m. at the State Culture Center in Charleston. Visitation will take place on Saturday and before Sunday service in the nearby Capitol rotunda.


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