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Time runs short as advocates seek state funeral for last living WWII Medal of Honor recipient

Nov 10 2019
Nikki WentlingStars and Stripes

WASHINGTON — Medal of Honor recipient Robert Maxwell, who threw himself onto an enemy grenade in France to shield fellow soldiers from the blast, died in May, leaving behind only three living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II.

One of them, Francis Currey — who rescued five soldiers pinned down by German fire — died in October.

“And now there are two,” said Bill McNutt.

McNutt, who resides in Dallas, wants President Donald Trump to approve a state funeral for the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. He founded an organization, the State Funeral for World War II Veterans, in 2017 and brought on dozens of volunteers to plead that it be done.

With the deaths of Maxwell and Curry, their work is becoming more desperate.

“We are feeling a real sense of urgency,” said McNutt, 64. “How sad we will all be if we can’t convince the president to make this designation.”

The Medal of Honor was awarded to 473 service members from World War II, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The two still living are Charles Henry Coolidge, 98, and Hershel “Woody” Williams, who celebrated his 96th birthday last month.

Coolidge led a group of machine-gunners and riflemen in southern France. He was tasked in October 1944 with holding a hilltop position, and he and his men defended against an enemy attack for four days.

Williams fought at Iwo Jima in 1945. He used a flamethrower to destroy Japanese pillboxes, running back and forth between the breach and the refueling lines during a period of four hours, all while under enemy fire.

McNutt believes a state funeral — which includes a public observance in the U.S. Capitol — would serve as a final send-off to the World War II generation. Either Coolidge or Williams would be a symbol for the millions of other Americans who fought in the war, he said.