Sunday, August 14, 2022

Woody Williams dies at 98 – the Last WWII Medal of Honor recipient – Veterans Today

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[ Editor’s Note: We reach an historical WWII moment with the passing of Woody Williams, the last Medal of Honor recipient from that long and horrible war. He took out a half dozen pill boxes on Iwo Jima that had been mowing down the Marines trying to break through the Japanese defense line.

Woody was actually the demolitions supply seargant, but when all of his unit’s demolition teams had been killed by noon of the third day, he found himself stepping up and having a go at doing the impossible, blowing a big hole in the Japanese line so the Marines could rush through to capture the airport and cut the island in half.

I met him by chance in Atlanta when attending a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam War recipient who had canceled at the last moment. Woody was the quick replacement. I arrived late to the luncheon event with a guest, but we had to split up, as no double seats were open.

The angels took me over to an empty seat by an old WWII guy, and yes, it was Woody. As he was in town for a weekend of events, I was able to get him to stop by my home studio to shoot his story, and then I drove him to the airport for his flight home. That magic hour remains one of the gems of the Jim Dean Journal public tv series in Atlanta.

We crossed paths again many years later after he had started his Medal of Honor Foundation with two of his grandchildren, on a quest to build Gold Star family monuments around the USA. I saw him one more time two summers ago in Detriot at one of his Gold Star monument dedication ceremonies.

We were all hoping to see him make it to 100. But he did get 103 monuments dedicated, with 72 in progress, in 50 states and 1 US territory, an incredible achievement.

He was a humble man to the end, sharing with me during our interview that his greatest honor had been to be the chaplain of the Medal of Honor Society, saying “even greater than this one” as he tapped his MoH. It was a magical moment.

We are sad at his loss, but were honored to watch him doing about 100 in person events a year, all done to keep alive the memories of those who never made it back to tell their stories… Jim W. Dean ]

Woody did not know what he was getting decorated for until he got to the ceremony

First published June 29, 2022

Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima who was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died June 29 at a hospital in Huntington, W.Va. He was 98.

His death was announced by the Woody Williams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves Gold Star military families, and by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The cause was not immediately available.

Mr. Williams, who grew up on a West Virginia dairy farm, was a 21-year-old Marine corporal when he carried out the assault on the Japanese at Iwo Jima for which he received the nation’s highest military award for valor.

He found himself on the volcanic island in the first days of the U.S. invasion that began on Feb. 19, 1945.

One of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history, Iwo Jima is seared in American memory as the site of the flag-raising at Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. The moment was captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning image by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and commemorated in the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Mr. Williams’s heroic actions occurred the same day. He witnessed the flag-raising but said he had limited memory of his own role in the battle, which took the lives of 7,000 Marines, including his best friend. His medal citation recounts his “unyielding determination … in the face of ruthless enemy resistance” and a display of courage that was “directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strongpoints encountered by his regiment.”

“Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands,” the citation reads, “Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions.”

Armed with a flamethrower, and under unremitting fire, he was credited with destroying a series of Japanese fortifications.

“On one occasion,” according to the citation, “he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants, and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.”

Mr. Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in October 1945, months after the Japanese surrender that ended World War II.

Mr. Williams, who attained the rank of chief warrant officer 4, later pursued a career with what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs and ran a horse farm.

“It’s one of those things that you put in the recess of your mind,” Mr. Williams told The Washington Post in 2020, reflecting 75 years later on his service at Iwo Jima. “You were fulfilling an obligation that you swore to do, to defend your country.

Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima who was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died June 29 at a hospital in Huntington, W.Va. He was 98.

His death was announced by the Woody Williams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves Gold Star military families, and by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The cause was not immediately available.

Mr. Williams, who grew up on a West Virginia dairy farm, was a 21-year-old Marine corporal when he carried out the assault on the Japanese at Iwo Jima for which he received the nation’s highest military award for valor.

He found himself on the volcanic island in the first days of the U.S. invasion that began on Feb. 19, 1945.

One of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history, Iwo Jima is seared in American memory as the site of the flag-raising at Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. The moment was captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning image by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and commemorated in the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va.

Mr. Williams’s heroic actions occurred the same day. He witnessed the flag-raising but said he had limited memory of his own role in the battle, which took the lives of 7,000 Marines, including his best friend. His medal citation recounts his “unyielding determination … in the face of ruthless enemy resistance” and a display of courage that was “directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strongpoints encountered by his regiment.”

“Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands,” the citation reads, “Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions.”

Armed with a flamethrower, and under unremitting fire, he was credited with destroying a series of Japanese fortifications.

“On one occasion,” according to the citation, “he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants, and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.”

Mr. Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in October 1945, months after the Japanese surrender that ended World War II.

Mr. Williams, who attained the rank of chief warrant officer 4, later pursued a career with what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs and ran a horse farm.

“It’s one of those things that you put in the recess of your mind,” Mr. Williams told The Washington Post in 2020, reflecting 75 years later on his service at Iwo Jima. “You were fulfilling an obligation that you swore to do, to defend your country. Any time you take a life … there’s always some aftermath to that if you’ve got any heart at all.”

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