HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WOWK/WFXR) — The last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, a veteran from West Virginia named Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, died on Wednesday at the age of 98.
Williams was born on Oct. 2, 1923, and grew up in Quiet Dell. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
Williams received the Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945, from then-President Harry S. Truman for his “actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism,” the Woody Williams Foundation website says.
Following his service in WWII, Williams worked to serve veterans and their families as a veterans service representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 33 years. He also served as the Commandant for the Veterans Nursing Home in Barboursville for almost 10 years and has served on the Governor’s Military Advisory Board for West Virginia.
Williams was named a Distinguished West Virginian in 1980 and in 2013 and is a member of the West Virginia Hall of Fame. The Huntington VA Medical Center was also renamed the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center in his honor in 2018.
In addition, Williams founded the Woody Williams Foundation, a non-profit organization that establishes Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments and conducts outreach programs for Gold Star Families.
In March 2020, the U.S. Navy even commissioned a warship, the USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, in his honor in Norfolk, Virginia.
Williams was preceded in death by his wife Ruby in 2007. He is survived by his two daughters.
A statement from the Woody Williams Foundation says that Williams “went home to the be with the Lord” and that he “peacefully joined his beloved wife Ruby while surrounded by his family at the VA Medical Center which bears his name.”
Meanwhile, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation shared the following photos and statement in response to Williams’ passing:
The National D-Day Memorial is deeply saddened by the loss of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. A longtime friend of the Foundation, Williams worked closely with the Memorial on various projects over the years.
“Woody worked tirelessly to ensure the families of those who lost loved ones in war were not forgotten,” said April Cheek-Messier, president of the Foundation. “We were honored to have known him. Woody has left a legacy that will long endure.”
The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was the brainchild of Williams, who fought in the fierce battle of Iwo Jima. Williams courageously stormed multiple enemy gun emplacements to silence the guns that had pinned his brothers down. His example of valor has inspired many since 1945; but Williams was always quick to speak of the bravery of others ahead of his own.
Williams personally chose the National D-Day Memorial for Virginia’s first Gold Star monument and helped dedicate it on Memorial Day 2017. During the dedication ceremony, Williams told the crowd, “For the loved ones who lost a loved one in our armed forces at any time in our history, the war is never over, the loss never goes away. America owes these people an honor and a tribute that we have never given them.”
Through the work of his Foundation, Williams succeeded in ensuring Gold Star monuments were placed throughout the country and now there is one in every state, in recognition of the sacrifice of those families.
“Woody reminded us all that freedom is not free. The price of liberty is borne by our sons and daughters in uniform, and by the families they leave behind,” noted Cheek-Messier. “Now we pay tribute to the man who made it possible. His humble nature, caring smile, and tireless devotion to military families is a legacy we will pass on for generations to come.”Statement released by the National D-Day Memorial Foundation on June 29, 2022