Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died Wednesday at the age of 98.
“Today at 3:15am, 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,” his foundation said in a statement Wednesday.
As a young Marine corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated 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 valor, from President Harry Truman at the White House.
“For me, receiving the Medal of Honor was actually the lifesaver because it forced me to talk about the experiences that I had, which was a therapy that I didn’t even know I was doing,” Williams said during a 2018 Boy Scouts recognition ceremony in Fairmont, according to the Times West Virginian.
As all of the men in Williams’ company perished, he kept pushing forward — at one point shoving a flamethrower nozzle into one of the small concrete boxes and killing the enemies inside. He then refueled his weapon and boldly returned five more times to destroy the remaining pillboxes. The war hero later said he remembered little from that fateful day and that his mind was “just a blank.”
The battle Williams Medal of Honor is connected to is Iwo Jima, where Marines planted the American flag on Mount Suribachi, a moment captured in one of the most iconic war photographs in history. Williams said he saw the flag from a distance after it went up as troops around him celebrated.
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 recipients of the Medal of Honor to be honored by the NFL and the nation during the coin toss before the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
“Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation,” Gov. Jim Justice said in a statement.
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