Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams
World War II Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams was born in Quiet Dell, West Virginia and grew up in the Fairmont, West Virginia area. In May 1943, Mr. Williams enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and received his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California. Following instruction as a demolition man and in the use of flamethrowers Mr. Williams departed for the southwest Pacific on December 3, 1943, where he was assigned to the Third Marine Division at Guadalcanal. In the summer of 1944, he experienced his first combat against the Japanese in Guam.
In February of 1945, Mr. Williams distinguished himself with actions "above and beyond the call of duty" at the Battle of Iwo Jima. On February 23rd, covered by only four riflemen, Mr. Williams neutralized seven concrete pillbox positions, opening a gap in the Japanese defenses which enabled the Marines to move forward on Mount Suribachi. These actions occurred on the same day as the immortalized flag-raising on Mount Surbachi, with Williams about one thousand yards away from the volcano witnessing the event.
Mr. Hershel "Woody" Williams, addresses the audience at Follies '95
Mr. Williams continued to fight through the five week long battle even though he was injured on March 6 by shrapnel, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. In September 1945, Mr. Williams returned to the United States and on October 5, 1945 President Harry S. Truman presented Mr. Williams the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Iwo Jima.
After discharge in November of 1945, Mr. Williams served in the Marine Corps Reserve until retiring from the Reserve in 1969. From 1946 to 1979, Mr. Williams was a Veteran Services Officer at the Veterans Administration and also became a lay minister to his church and served as Chaplain Emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
In 2010, the Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation, Inc. was established "to honor Gold Star Families, relatives, and Gold Star Children who have sacrificed a loved one in the service of their country" with Mr. Williams serving on the Founders Advisory Board. On February 4, 2018, Mr. Williams along with 14 other living Medal of Honor recipients was honored at the Super Bowl LII during the coin toss with Mr. Williams selected to perform the official coin toss.
Mr. Williams has long been a friend to East Fairmont High School and to the Busy Bee Band & Honeybees. In 1995 and 2004, the band and audience at Follies were addressed by Mr. Williams as he relayed his experiences and lessons from his World War II service. In October of 2004, Mr. Williams attended the dedication of the Veterans Plaza Memorial located near the entrance of East Fairmont High School and also was an honored guest during the pre-game ceremony that evening at East-West Stadium.
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 machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four 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 one position after another. On one 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 resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strongpoints 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.