Updated: Jan 13, 2021
A true legend, Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams served in the Marine Corps, 3rd Division, 21st Regiment, in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Mr. Williams is one of only two living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor (our nation’s highest military award) from World War II (the other is Mr. Charles H. Coolidge – a truly amazing man who was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Europe). Woody earned his Medal of Honor for actions on February 23, 1945, during the invasion of Iwo Jima. In an unbelievable span of several hours, Woody utilized a flame thrower to neutralize a network of concrete-reinforced Japanese pillboxes, under extremely heavy fire, after the majority of his company had been killed or wounded. His actions in the face of ruthless enemy resistance allowed his company to reach its’ objective and ultimately secure one of the airfields on Iwo Jima.
Although Woody’s heroic actions on February 23, 1945, will never be paralleled or forgotten, he has never stopped serving our great nation. Woody grew up on a dairy farm in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. Like many young men growing up during the Great Depression, he lived a very simple life, and didn’t know (or care) much about what was happening in the rest of the world. That is, until December 7, 1941. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Woody embarked on a long journey of service that still continues today.
After joining the Marine Corps, and setting sail for the South Pacific, Woody landed in New Caledonia and was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division. He experienced his first combat in Guam, and several months later, boarded a ship to invade Iwo Jima. Following his career in the Marine Corps, Woody served 33 years in the VA, and in 2010 founded the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation (http://www.hwwmohf.org/), an organization dedicated to honoring Gold Star Families.
Gold Star families have lost loved ones to military service, and Woody has dedicated his life to honoring them. At age 97, Woody works tirelessly, day-in and day-out, to honor these families through the building of monuments. At the time of this writing, Woody’s foundation has constructed 76 Gold Star Monuments, in all 50 U.S. states, with 74 additional monuments in-progress, and more being added each day. We are currently working on building a monument in downtown San Antonio, Texas, to honor Gold Star families in Central and South Texas. Candy and Ed Martin, parents of 1LT Tom Martin (who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq in October 2007) are working closely with Woody and his foundation to ensure an incredible monument is constructed to honor Tom, and all Gold Star families in South/Central Texas.
Whether you spotted Woody visiting with President Trump on Air Force One this past September, or saw him on national television tossing the coin for Super Bowel LII, you can be sure of one thing: Woody has more energy at 97 than most people half his age. I am proud to share his story during this three-part interview series. Part one will discuss Woody’s upbringing and joining the Marine Corps. Part two will cover his deployment to the South Pacific, combat in Guam, and preparation for Iwo Jima. In part three, we’ll discuss his actions on February 23, 1945, as well as Woody’s love for horses and advice to young men and women just joining the military. By the way, part two includes a fascinating description of the flame thrower and how it operates. Amazing!
Woody is an incredible man with an even more incredible story. He is an inspiration to so many, and I’m honored to call him my friend. Thank you for watching, listening, and sharing Woody’s story.