During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Society are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with a look at Feb. 23, 1945 and the actions of Marine Cpl. Hershel W. Williams during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
Hershel W. Williams’ Medal of Honor Citation reads:
“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 machinegun fire from the unyielding positions.
“Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 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 1 position after another. On 1 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 strong points 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.”
Williams’ story continues in Peter Collier’s Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty:
“When Williams’ company was take off the line a week and half later, only 17 of the 279 men who had hit the beach with the company had not been killed or wounded.
“After the battle of Iwo Jima, Williams went back to Guam as part of the Marine force training for the invasion of Japan, which was unnecessary after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Oct .5, 1945, he was ordered to Washington to receive the Medal of Honor. The moment President Harry Truman placed it around his neck, he resolved to consider himself the medal’s caretaker for the Marines who didn’t come home from Iwo Jima.
“Hershel Williams later became active in his church as a lay minister. He served his fellow recipients and their loved ones as chaplain for many years. He is now chaplain emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.”
In 2010, the Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation was established to encourage, “with the assistance of the American public and community leaders, establishing permanent Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities throughout the country.” The foundation also provides scholarships to eligible Gold Star Children.
Williams, like many recipients, keeps up a full schedule of travel during the year. In 2018, he was among the 15 recipients invited to be honored during the official on-field coin toss ceremony before Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots. Williams tossed the coin.
Woody Williams visits Freedoms Foundation often. He is shown (from left) pointing to his name on the original West Virginia obelisk, joining “Rosie the Riveter” Mae Krier to talk with teachers in summer 2018, and dedicating the Gold Star Family Memorial in 2014.