Sep 28, 2017
Brian Albrecht | Cleveland.com
CLEVELAND, Ohio - A welcome befitting a Medal of Honor recipient greeted Hershel "Woody" Williams Thursday evening when his plane landed at Burke Lakefront Airport.
Williams, the last surviving Marine who was awarded a Medal of Honor during World War II, was visiting Cleveland to talk with local business and civic leaders Friday about establishing a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument here.
One of the goals of the Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, Inc., is to erect monuments across the country honoring Gold Star families who have lost loved ones in the military. Twenty-one have been established, and another 51 are planned in 37 states.
Williams' visit was organized by the Cleveland committee of the foundation.
His plane was welcomed by a Cleveland Fire Department water cannon salute as it taxied to the airport terminal.
A crowd had assembled to greet him, representing the Marines and other service members, the Department of Veterans Affairs, VFW Post 3345, the Greater Cleveland Young Marines, and members of the Cleveland police and fire departments.
As he left the airport in a World War II-era Jeep, Williams made a brief stop to visit another World War II vet - the USS Cod Submarine Memorial, which gave him a deck-gun salute.
Williams, 93, is scheduled to speak at several local events Friday, and attend a Cleveland Indians game that night.
Navy Reserve Lt. JG Matthew Previts, of Lakewood, has accompanied Williams on these visits and said of the Cleveland welcome, "I told him it would be a quiet night, with maybe one or two people there.
"I thought we'd set the bar low, then push it through the roof," he added with a chuckle.
Previts said he has known Williams for the past two years, and said "to me, he's kind-of like a grandfather. He's everybody's grandpa.
"Oftentimes people don't know what to say to veterans or Gold Star families," he noted. "But Woody just knows. He's very life-giving to other people. He's an energizing person."
The Marine vet wasn't always that way. Williams was initially "very, very shy" about being awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during the battle for Iwo Jima, according to Previts.
In the first recognition ceremony for Williams in his West Virginia hometown, "he said two words - thank you - then sat down," Previts said.
Since then, "he realized he had a responsibility not to be shy," Previts added. "He is now an outgoing and wonderful speaker."
Some traits haven't changed. As Previts noted, "There's still an intensity in his eyes. He's a Marine, through and through. He's still fierce if he needs to be.