MANSFIELD — If the name Hershel W. “Woody” Williams sounds familiar to north central Ohio residents, it should — for multiple reasons.
Williams died on Wednesday, June 29 at the age of 98. Nationally, he was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. Congressional leaders announced Sunday that he will lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. That ceremony will take place when Congress resumes session and after consulting with the family.
Locally, Williams was the guest of honor on Nov. 18, 2019 to dedicate the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in downtown Mansfield.
The retired U.S. Marine was the face of the Woody Williams Foundation, which was organized to honor, recognize and serve Gold Star Families and the legacy of their Loved Ones.
“The Gold Star family members keep me going because they have never, in the history of our country, had any recognition for the sacrifices they have made,” Williams said during the 2019 ceremony in Mansfield. “We don’t understand that. I don’t understand it yet today.
“We must do something in this country to recognize these families.”
In 1945, Williams was just a 21-year-old corporal when he volunteered to go forward as the last flamethrower attempting to quell devastating machine-gun fire from Japanese pillboxes on Iwo Jima.
His courage under fire over several crucial hours at the battle for Iwo Jima is the stuff of legend. Williams went ahead of his unit on that fateful February day and eliminated a series of Japanese machine-gun positions. Facing small-arms fire, Williams fought for four hours, repeatedly returning to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers.
Ironically, the West Virginia native was initially rejected by the Marine Corps in 1943 due to its height requirement.
“Woody Williams embodied the best of America: living a life of duty, honor and courage,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said in a statement.
Williams was decorated by President Harry S. Truman. This holiday weekend his memory is especially poignant.
“Whether it was for his acts of bravery in combat or his tireless advocacy for all veterans and their families, Woody made our entire country, especially his fellow West Virginians, proud,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York).