Hershel “Woody” Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division. During the battle, Mr. Williams displayed “valiant devotion to duty” and service above self as he “enabled his company to reach its objective”. Mr. Williams’ actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism were recognized on October 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House. Mr. Williams is the sole surviving Marine from WWII, to wear the Medal of Honor.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as demolition sergeant serving with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945. Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands, Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machinegun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out 1 position after another. On 1 occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon. His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistence were
directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective. Cpl. Williams' aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.
Organization: U.S. Marine Corps
Division: 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division
Born: 2 October 1923, Quiet Dell, W. Va.
Entered Service At: West Virginia
Date of Issue: 10/05/1945
Accredited To: West Virginia
Place / Date: Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945
Mr. Williams’ devotion to duty, service members, veterans and their families began long before that battle and before he entered the Corps. As World War II began, Woody came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one. Woody says that those experiences gave him a “greater appreciation for life and an understanding of a difference in death in the normal world as expected in life, and those lost serving in the military for their country". He noted that “consideration and recognition of the families of those lost in war was very inadequate.” This observation and his personal commitment to veterans and their families led him to help create the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation in 2012.
The activities of this foundation allow Mr. Williams to continue his devotion and commitment to those who have served and the Gold Star families who have lost loved ones to that service above self. His foundation is focused on honoring Gold Star Families and their fallen Heroes by establishing Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities in all 50 states, offering scholarships to Gold Star Children, sponsoring outreach programs and events, and educating communities about Gold Star Families and the sacrifice they have endured.
To date, Woody and his foundation are responsible for establishing 40 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with 44 other monuments underway in 39 states. The Foundation continues to grow its reach by being involved in multiple initiatives across the country from Manchester, NH to Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
Mr. Williams began his military career with a commitment to country, service members, veterans and families. He continues that commitment through his active engagement with local communities in recognizing and commemorating the service and devotion to duty of our service men and women.
Following the war, Woody worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for 33 years as a Veterans Service Representative, allowing him to continue serving veterans and their families.
Woody retired after serving 20 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserves.
He served as the Commandant of the Veterans Nursing Home in Barboursville, WV for nearly 10 years, helping veterans who were often in their last years of life.
Still today, Woody serves on the Governor's Military Advisory Board in the State of West Virginia.
His state legislature in West Virginia has included him in the Hall of Fame for the state named him a Distinguished West Virginian in 1980 and in 2013. He is on the “Wall of Fame” in the Civic Center in the city of Huntington, West Virginia, nominated and selected by the former recipients who received this honor.
His actions have often been recognized by our military and its highest officers, recently the Secretary of the Navy named T-ESB 4 (Expeditionary Sea Base Ship 4), the USNS Hershel "Woody" Williams mobile base sea vessel. She entered Navy service in early 2018.
In his hometown of Fairmont, WV, the 32 million dollar Hershel “Woody” Williams Armed Forces Reserve Center is the only National Guard facility in the country named after a Marine.
The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Hershel “Woody” Williams Post 7048 in Fairmont, West Virginia and the main bridge in Barboursville, West Virginia are named for him as well.
Woody has literally penned dozens of Resolutions to help veterans and other causes in West Virginia and throughout the United States.