January 25 2019
Jenni Vincent | Herald Mail Media
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia is first for something good.
It’s taken years, but each of the state’s four VA medical centers now has its own Medal of Honor Wall commemorating veterans who received the nation’s highest military honor.
The final piece of the statewide effort was unveiled Friday morning. Martinsburg VA Medical Center officials were joined by more than 100 people to see the new wall recognizing area Medal of Honor recipients.
Hershel “Woody” Willams, the only living West Virginia recipient of the Medal of Honor, took part in the event, along with U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and medical center director Timothy J. “Tim” Cooke.
Williams, 95, is a retired U.S. Marine Corps warrant officer and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs veterans service representative. He was honored for heroism beyond the call of duty during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
“West Virginia is the first state to pay tribute to all of our Medal of Honor recipients in the areas served by medical centers. West Virginia is No. 1,” he said, pausing briefly as audience members applauded.
Now it’s time for the rest of the country to catch up, he said.
Some VA centers, including the Martinsburg facility, also honor recipients from other states, he said.
That includes the Huntington VA, which “takes care of some of those Kentuckians, and those Ohioans who stole our river. We don’t hold it against them — they were just smarter. It should be the West Virginia River. not the Ohio River,” he said with a chuckle.
Despite years of advocacy work, he declined to take credit for this and the other memorial walls in Clarksburg and Beckley.
“This is not about me. It’s about them, and these veterans are the reason we’re here,” he said.
“Most of them would not have expected to receive our nation’s highest award for valor for doing something above and beyond the call of duty,” he said.
The 45 veterans featured locally on the 63-foot long wall are from the medical center’s catchment area that covers 22 counties in four states.
Their service dates to the Civil War and also includes the ongoing war on terror, he said.
“Most people would not have known the names of these veterans, but with this memory wall, their names will be forever known,” he said.
Three veterans from the Tri-State are among those honored, including Lt. Henry G. Bonebrake from Waynesboro, Pa;, Ens. Hugh Carroll Frazer from Martinsburg, W.Va.; and First Lt. Francis M. Smith of Frederick County, Md.
Medal of Honor recipients
Lt. Henry G. Bonebrake from Waynesboro, Pa.
A Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, he served in the Civil War as a lieutenant in Company G, 17th Pennsylvania Volunteer Calvary.
He received the award for his bravery at the Battle of Five Forks, Virginia, on April 1, 1865.
His citation reads, “As one of the first of Devin’s Division to enter the works, he fought in a hand-to-hand struggle with a Confederate to capture his flag by superior physical strength.”
His medal was issued May 3, 1865.
Ens. Hugh Carroll Frazer from Martinsburg, W.Va.
A Vera Cruz Expedition Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912.
He served as an ensign on a U.S. Navy gun boat during the Vera Cruz, Mexico, expedition.
On April 22, 1914, he and his crew were involved in the battle. During the landing engagement, he ran forward under heavy hostile fire to rescue a wounded man.
After completing the mission, he returned to his position in line and continued to fight.
He received the award for extraordinary heroism.
He remained in the Navy, served in World War I and retired as a commander.
His medal was issued Dec. 4, 1915.
First Lt. Francis M. Smith from Frederick County, Md.
He served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army for the 1st Maryland Infantry and attained the rank of captain.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor for action at Dabney’s Mills, Virginia, on Feb. 6, 1885.
His citation reads, “Voluntarily remained with the body of his regimental commander under a heavy fire after the brigade had retired, and brought the body off the field.”
Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. William O. Wilson, an Army buffalo soldier from Hagerstown who earned the honor for bravery during the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, is not on the wall.
That’s because his Medal of Honor accreditation point was St. Paul, Minn., a VA spokesman said.
Cooke, who watched the wall become a reality, said it was an honor to be part of the process.
“The Medal of Honor is not something you win. It is the ultimate form of recognition. It’s earned by capturing the flag and defending the line, by those who were willing to put themselves in front of a bullet or another man,” he said.
“Ordinary people in their beginning, but with extraordinary courage in their military service,” he said.
Capito, who spent the morning at the center, got a closer look at the wall along with Williams and Cooke later on.
“This is a great symbol of our history, and a great way to preserve these veterans’ legacy. It truly is about unveiling history and celebrating valor,” she said, adding that young people will benefit from the memorial walls.
All of the wall was designed locally and created at Brews Custom Awards in Martinsburg, said company owner and veteran Brian Brewer, who served in the Army for seven years.
“I still remember when they first asked me to do this about four years ago, and how it felt to help come up with the layout, to envision how it was going to be,” he said.