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When Our Flag ‘Did Something’

Feb 23 2020
Mike Myers |The Intelligencer

Seventy-five years ago today, a young West Virginian, Hershel “Woody” Williams, lifted his face from the black volcanic sand of a small island in the Pacific, wondering why many of the men with him were standing up, cheering and firing their rifles into the air.

Then he saw the American flag flapping in the breeze from a makeshift flagpole atop the only mountain on the island.

One can almost hear some in the younger generation sighing at one more anniversary of an historic event. Not another one! Why do we have to do this?

There is a good reason.

Williams — they called him “Willy” back then — is 96 years old. He lives in Marion County, W.Va., near where he was born in Quiet Dell.

He is one of just two living Medal of Honor winners from World War II. The other is Charles H. Coolidge, a Tennesseean.

After being honored, Williams, vowed to live the rest of his life in a manner that would never dishonor the medal he won. He has gone far above and beyond that.

Williams launched a campaign to erect Gold Star Families Memorial monuments throughout the nation. There are 60 of them in 45 states (including one in Wheeling and another planned in Moundsville).

Gold Star memorials honor the families of those who died in the service of our country.

Williams won his Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima. His Marine unit was being decimated by Japanese machine gunners and riflemen in pillboxes. His captain asked if Williams would take them out.

Using flamethrowers, he took out seven pillboxes. Think about that.

It took the Marines five weeks to wipe out Japanese resistance on Iwo Jima. Nearly all the Japanese there fought to the death. With them they took 6,821 dead U.S. servicemen. Another 19,217 were wounded.

What about Williams and others in the greatest generation was different?

Williams has said that, “I really thought everybody had lost their mind” when they began jumping up and cheering.

“And then I looked up, and there’s Old Glory up on top of the mountain — so I jumped up and started doing the same dumb thing they were doing, firing a weapon in the air and jumping and screaming.”

“… it changed the whole attitude of the whole thing. It absolutely did something to us,” Williams recalled.

Would it do anything today? Have we changed since Feb. 23, 1945? Let’s pray we never have to find out.

Why observe the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima? So we can be reminded that at one time, the sight of Old Glory on a battlefield “did something to us.”