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Medal Of Honor Recipient Woody Williams Dead At 98

WVPB: Hershel “Woody” Williams 2
Perry Bennett
/
WV Legislative Photography
West Virginia native Hershel “Woody” Williams was the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in the nation. He died Wednesday at 98.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Updated on Wednesday, June 29 at 3:33 p.m.

West Virginians are expressing their grief this morning after learning of the death of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in the nation and native of Quiet Dell, West Virginia.

Gov. Jim Justice issued the following statement:

“I ask all West Virginians to join Cathy and I in praying for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones, and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States of America. Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody’s contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery, and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation.”

Williams was born in the northern West Virginia community of Quiet Dell on October 2, 1923. After Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist, but was rejected for his height. He was finally accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943 and served with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division on Iwo Jima. He received the nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, for actions on February 23, 1945. With the support of four riflemen, he destroyed seven enemy pill boxes with a flamethrower, saving countless lives of his fellow Marines.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life and during my time as governor to be able to spend a lot of time with Woody Williams over the years,” Justice said. “Woody was a living legend and was the embodiment to the world of what it means to be a West Virginian.”

“But while Woody earned his Medal of Honor by fighting on behalf of America in one of the most important battles in the history of civilization as we know it, we also ought to remember that his service didn’t end when he returned home at the end of that conflict over three-quarters of a century ago. In the decades after, Woody used his platform to lead the charge in another battle: an effort to honor America’s Gold Star families – those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price in defense of our freedoms – through his Woody Williams Foundation. Woody shepherded the construction of 102 Gold Star memorials in all 50 states across America to forever honor everyday Americans who have sacrificed so much. While Woody may be gone from this Earth, his selfless contributions to our state and nation will live on forever.

“Woody was part of what was undoubtedly the greatest generation that ever lived. The bravery displayed by men like Woody Williams across America and throughout West Virginia will likely never be matched, and we have to make sure their sacrifices are never forgotten. There are still many World War II Veterans alive in West Virginia, but they won’t be with us forever. We should all take this as an opportunity to reflect on how much these Veterans mean to us. If you know a World War II Veteran, thank them, love them, talk to them, hear their stories while they’re still with us – it is so important. We need to keep their memories alive because, when the world was at its darkest hour, they were our shining light.”

During the battle of Iwo Jima, Williams displayed “valiant devotion to duty” and service above self as he “enabled his company to reach its objective” according to his Medal of Honor citation. 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.

To date, Woody and his foundation are responsible for establishing 103 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 73 additional monuments underway in 50 states and 1 U.S. Territory. The first was dedicated in the Donnel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute. The monument at the West Virginia State Capitol is the largest.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin joined Justice in remembering Williams:

“Woody Williams was the embodiment of a true American hero. Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear. Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many across our great state and entire nation. We join all West Virginians in praying for Woody’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time.

“Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time. We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation. In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar – his most recent Veterans project – to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and Veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built.

“Woody was a tireless advocate for all Veterans and their family members. Over the years, my staff and I worked with Woody on too many issues to name, including for Gold Star Families, improving our Veterans hospitals and healthcare, and recognizing the contributions of our servicemembers. I will miss riding with Woody during our annual motorcycle ride for Gold Star Families; he was always my wingman. One of my most cherished memories with Woody is traveling to California and Virginia with him when his ship was commissioned and christened. During those moments, Woody showed the world the true nature of being a West Virginian with his humility and grace. As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also remembered Williams:

“West Virginia lost one of its proudest sons today, and the United States lost a true hero. I am so sad to learn that my friend Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, passed away at the age of 98. Woody embodied exactly what the Greatest Generation was all about: Service to country above self. Not only are his acts of valor on the battlefield well-documented, but the lives he touched in the years since serving had a lasting impact on every person he met. He inspired many to love their country, enter the service, and reminded everyone why our ‘nation under God’ is the greatest on earth. One of the best West Virginians we’ve ever known is now gone, but his lifetime of service and incredible legacy will be with us forever.”

U.S. Rep. David McKinley shared a photo with Williams, as well as a short statement, on Twitter:

U.S. Rep. Carol Miller also remembered Williams via Twitter:

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey shared thoughts on Williams' passing on his personal account:

Maj. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, the Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, issued the following statement:

“The entire West Virginia National Guard is deeply saddened by the loss of Woody and we send our condolences to the family, friends and all those who knew and loved him. For the entirety of his life, Woody has demonstrated valor, humility, kindness and an unwavering dedication to veterans and Gold Star Families. Through his advocacy work with the Woody Williams Foundation, he has impacted thousands upon thousands of lives by advancing the cause for Gold Star Family recognition and numerous veteran’s issues. Woody was a true friend of the West Virginia National Guard and his life inspired so many within our ranks. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Woody and his foundation and for all that he has done for West Virginia, our United States military and for Gold Star Families across the United States. He will forever be an example of the embodiment of West Virginia values and is a hero to not only us, but so many across the country. Our hope is that Woody’s life and service will continue to inspire future generations of West Virginians to serve and serve others for as he would say, ‘The cause is greater than I.” Semper Fi, Woody.”

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee issued the following statement:

“Hershel “Woody” Williams was a gentleman who served his country with tremendous courage and valor, and he devoted his life to honoring the service of others. I was privileged to know Woody and to spend time with a hero from our Greatest Generation whose purpose has served as an inspiration to so many others across our state and nation. And while we grieve his loss, I believe his example will continue to inspire countless future generations. My heartfelt condolences go out to Woody’s family and all who knew and loved him.”

Gee presented Williams with a Presidential honorary degree as part of a virtual presentation during WVU’s December 2021 commencement ceremony.

Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, released the following statement:

“Today, I join with all West Virginians in mourning the death of a true American hero. Woody Williams represented the best of West Virginia – a love for his family, a sense of service to his country, and a dedication to honoring our veterans. While we’ve now lost the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, his legacy of service above self and love of his country will continue to live through the Gold Star Families memorials his foundation helped build in all 50 states. Woody’s life inspired generations, and I pray for comfort and peace for his family and friends in the coming days as they lay this great man to rest.”

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, released the following statement:

“While a grateful state and nation are mourning the loss of a hero and national treasure, so many members of our Cabell County communities are mourning the loss of a friend. Woody Williams earned the honor and respect of the entire nation as a young man at Iwo Jima. He spent the rest of his life demonstrating what it means to be a servant leader. Without regard for position or titles, our friend Woody showed immense respect and kindness to every person he met. He was a humble man, with strength in his convictions and a drive to serve others. He did so day after day, month after month and year after year.

“Woody was passionate about honoring service and sacrifice. That passion led him to requesting laws of the state of West Virginia be changed many times. Woody often wrote letters, sent text messages, emails and certainly called with concerns, suggestions and new ideas. We have a Veterans Hall of Fame because of Woody Williams. We have Medals of Valor, the highest honor the state can bestow upon our first responders, because of Woody. We are most certainly a better state and a better nation because of Woody.

“As Woody sought to honor, comfort and support our Gold Star Families, I ask that we honor, comfort and support his family. For 98 years they shared a loving husband, father and grandfather with our state and our country. May we remain always faithful, just as Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) Hershel Woody Williams did, and remember as he often said, ‘the cause is greater than I.’”


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