Hershel "Woody" Williams
The last surviving World War II veteran to have received the Medal of Honor, has passed away.
Woody Williams, the last surviving World War II veteran to have received the Medal of Honor, has passed away. He was 98.
The Woody Williams Foundation writes Wednesday (June 29, 2022), “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.”
On February 23, 1945, a 21-year-old Marine corporal, Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams, watched from the bloody beaches of Iwo Jima as our flag was raised atop Mount Suribachi, immortalized by the sculpture at the Marine Corps Memorial.
For his heroic actions on that same day, Williams became one of 27 Iwo Jima Marines and sailors to receive the Medal of Honor — our nation's highest military award for valor — "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty..." It was the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history in which 7,000 Americans perished.
Williams, who was a very humble man and welcomed anyone to address him as "Woody," was one of 472 World War II recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was the last living WWII recipient until his death this week at age 98 in his beloved home state of West Virginia.
Woody was the youngest of seven children born into a hard-working farming family, and, at just 3.5 pounds at birth in 1923, he was not expected to survive. Thank God he did. He wanted to enlist in the Marine Corps after the "Japs" attacked Pearl Harbor, but given that his low birth weight hindered his adult stature, he did not meet the 5'6" minimum height requirement. But the Corps reduced that restriction in 1943 and Woody was in.
He trained in San Diego as an infantryman on the use of flamethrowers. At the time, this weapon was one of the most effective means of extracting Japanese fighters from their cavern entrenchments on Pacific islands. It was a heavy and cumbersome backpack device with three tanks, two for a mixture of diesel fuel and aviation gas and the third for compressed air. And if an enemy bullet pierced the tanks, it meant certain death for its bearer.
His first combat trials were with Company C, 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal. He then served at the Battle of Guam in 1944 and in 1945 landed on the grainy volcanic sand of Iwo Jima, where he was charged with clearing enemy pill boxes.
Please take a moment to read his full Medal of Honor citation and ponder the extraordinary actions of this man. Like all recipients, he was an ordinary individual who demonstrated extraordinary acts of valor when confronted with circumstances that called him to put the lives of others above his own.
After the war, Woody remained with the Marine Corps Reserve's 25th Infantry Company, and his final rank was Chief Warrant Officer 4. He spent 33 years as a counselor with Veterans Affairs. He was a devoted Christian and served as the chaplain for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for 35 years. He also headed the Woody Williams Foundation, supporting the establishment of permanent Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities across our nation and providing Living Legacy scholarships to the children of fallen Soldiers, Sailers, Airmen and Marines.
Like all recipients, Woody considered himself only a "caretaker" of the medal, and he wore it in honor of all others who served.
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