Woody Williams, 98, Last World War II Medal of Honor Recipient, Passes Away: ‘Our Nation Has Lost a Genuine Hero’

Hershel 'Woody' Williams

The last remaining recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II has died.

Hershel “Woody” Williams passed away at the age of 98 on Wednesday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, which has borne his name since 2018, 59 News reported.

Born on a dairy farm in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, in 1923, Williams was the youngest of 11 children and was keen to serve his country following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Williams tried enlisting in the Marines but was denied due to his height of 5’6.”  He later was able to join after the height requirement was lowered in 1943.

As part of the 21st Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, Williams arrived in Iwo Jima with his regiment in February 1945 and quickly realized that the fight would be more intense than anticipated.

The National Medal of Honor Museum described the subsequent events:

On February 23, 1945, five days into the battle, Williams was the only surviving Marine in his six-man demolition team, all the others having been killed or wounded. His division faced networks of mutually supporting Japanese pillboxes, reinforced with concrete and extremely hard to eliminate. Hindered by the black volcanic sand, American tanks were unable to destroy them. Desperate to break through, Woody’s company commander asked if he could use his flamethrower to knock out some of the pillboxes. “I’ll try,” Woody replied.

Williams later stated that he could never explain how, over the following four hours, he eliminated seven pillboxes with six different flamethrowers. Covered only by four Marine riflemen, Woody braved enemy fire again and again to prepare and employ his flamethrowers and demolition charges to devastating effect. Once, he jumped onto one of the pillboxes from the side and, shoving the nozzle of his seventy-pound flamethrower into an air vent pipe, incinerated everyone inside. Another time, he charged several bayonet-wielding Japanese soldiers and killed them with one burst of flame.

Williams was also awarded a Purple Heart for an injury he sustained during the battle.

Upon returning from the war, Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor – the highest decoration a military serviceman can receive – by 33rd President Harry S. Truman in October 1945 for his heroic bravery displayed in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

He remained in the Marine Corps for a period of time before working for 33 years as a Veterans Service Representative with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He also worked for ten years as the commandant of the Veterans Nursing Home in Barboursville, West Virginia, and was a chaplain for the Medal of Honor Society for 35 years, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum.

Williams was also an “advocate” for Gold Star families through his Woody Williams Foundation. He and his foundation helped establish “103 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 72 additional monuments underway in 50 states and 1 U.S. Territory,” according to its website.

Tributes have poured out for the Medal of Honor recipient, recognizing his life of service and bravery.

“Our nation has lost a genuine hero,” the Medal of Honor Museum wrote. “Woody was truly one of the greatest of greats!”

In 2020, Williams traveled on Air Force One with then-President Donald Trump to Japan in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the ending of World War II.

“He’s 100 percent sharp,” Trump said of Williams at the time. “I know a 78-year-old that is not so sharp.”

Battle of Iwo Jima. Photo taken during flag raising on volcano top. (Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty)

You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.

 A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Mr. Williams received the Congressional Medal of Honor.


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