Medal of Honor recipient Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, 98, passes away
WAYNE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams has passed away. He was 98.
The Woody Williams Foundation writes Wednesday, “at 3:15 a.m., Hershel Woodrow Williams, affectionately known by many as Woody, went home to be with the Lord. Woody peacefully joined his beloved wife Ruby while surrounded by his family at the VA Medical Center which bears his name.”
Memorial services for Williams will be held Saturday, July 2 and Sunday July 3 in Charleston, West Virginia.
“Woody’s family would like to express their sincere gratitude for all of the love and support, They would like share that Woody’s wish is that people continue to carry on his mission,” the Woody Williams Foundation continued.
Woody Williams, who turned 98 on October 2, fought in World War II with the Marine Corps as a flamethrower at the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. His heroic actions there were later honored as he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman.
Williams was the last surviving World War II veteran to have received the Medal of Honor.
The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation released a statement following Williams passing describing his heroism >>> CLICK HERE.
“On February 23, 1945, five days into the battle, Williams was the only surviving Marine in his six-man demolition team, all the others having been killed or wounded. His division faced networks of mutually supporting Japanese pillboxes, reinforced with concrete and extremely hard to eliminate. Hindered by the black volcanic sand, American tanks were unable to destroy them. Desperate to break through, Woody’s company commander asked if he could use his flamethrower to knock out some of the pillboxes. “I’ll try,” Woody replied.
Williams later stated that he could never explain how, over the following four hours, he eliminated seven pillboxes with six different flamethrowers. Covered only by four Marine riflemen, Woody braved enemy fire again and again to prepare and employ his flamethrowers and demolition charges to devastating effect. Once, he jumped onto one of the pillboxes from the side and, shoving the nozzle of his seventy-pound flamethrower into an air vent pipe, incinerated everyone inside. Another time, he charged several bayonet-wielding Japanese soldiers and killed them with one burst of flame,” the National Medal of Honor Museum article continued.
A procession honoring Williams left the VA medical center Wednesday morning and carried Williams’ body to Beard Mortuary.
Williams was perhaps the unlikeliest of heroes, considering his humble beginnings.
“I just grew up as a country boy, working on a farm. To have this happen all this years later is just so very difficult for me to understand,” Williams told WSAZ.
Williams was born and grew up in Quiet Dell in Marion County and later made his home in Barboursville, West Virginia.
But that farm boy from West Virginia would ultimately travel across the world with the U.S. Marines to take part in what he described as a miracle, not just surviving the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, but earning the Medal of Honor for what people would nowadays call “superhero” action. As always, Woody remained humble about Iwo Jima ... even as our nation was about to name a military vessel in his honor in March of 2020.
“It wasn’t anything outstanding that particular day, February 23, 1945,” Williams said. “It was just another day of battle, as far as I was concerned. I was just the guy who was trained to do the flamethrower.”
Sgt. Maj. Sean McLain with USMC 40 said, “People idolize movie stars and professional athletes. But, as Marines, we idolize men like Woody and what he did on Iwo Jima.”
It took 75 years before Woody would earn the honor people like U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus - who worked together to push it through. Both said it was long overdue.
“And it was funny because Ray took the position,” Manchin said. “I feel bad we didn’t do it sooner.’ You just have to push along, push along.”
Getting that ship named in Woody’s honor was a Herculean effort, led by Woody’s friend and fellow Marine, Ron Wroblewski, who tirelessly worked for years gathering more than 70,000 signatures on a petition to get a naval ship named after Williams.
“Ron really gets all the credit,” said Brent Casey, who is Woody’s grandson. “He started this thing here in Norfolk. He spotted a Navy ship with a Medal of Honor recipient’s name. The lightbulb went off and the rest is history.”
With Ron’s mission getting that big push from Senator Manchin, the boat was finally in the water, so to speak. In 2020, at the age of 96, Hershel “Woody” Williams would be there in person to take part in the official commission of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams.
Capt. George McCarthy of the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams said, “What we’re seeing here is very unique. We have a living namesake. That in itself is very rare.”
Capt. David Gray of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams had similar sentiments.
“Every time you’ll see that ship you can say, ‘I put that ship to commission. I was one of the original crew members on that ship.’ I’m very proud to be there. Our crew is extremely excited and overwhelmed they’re going to hold that title,” Gray said.
In his comments at the commission ceremony, Woody talked about the honor of his name etched upon a ship where future generations will serve their country with the same pride in which he served generations ago, including two young crew members from West Virginia who were stationed aboard the ship that bears the name of their home state’s military hero.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Chase Welch said. “Hearing about him, a hero coming out of West Virginia... and me, being from West Virginia, coming here as my first command... that’s super surreal.”
That ceremony in Arlington, Virginia, was literally days before our nation, and the world, went into lockdown due to COVID. Still, it didn’t slow down Woody. He masked up and came to WSAZ to nominate his friend, Ron Wroblewski, as a Hometown Hero for all his hard work on the ship naming project.
Later in 2020, we caught up with Woody at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington when he was in our nation’s capital for a ceremony at the White House. The word reverence comes to mind when thinking about the way all those U.S. Marines reacted that day when they met their hero.
Woody would continue the work he loved so much, traveling across the country, paying tribute to Gold Star families who lost sons and daughters in combat.
Last October, Woody turned 98 -- a birthday fit for an American hero, who showed no signs of slowing down. Just this past Memorial Day, we found Woody doing what he’s always done -- honoring his country and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
All correspondence and condolences may be sent to the Woody Williams Foundation via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at:
Woody Williams Foundation
12123 Shelbyville Rd., Suite 100
Louisville, Ky 40243
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