Last year, West Virginia and the nation paid tribute to the life of service of Hershel “Woody” Williams, America’s last World War II Medal of Honor Recipient. Williams, a decorated Marine who served bravely in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division, was 98. He passed away June 29, 2022, surrounded by family at the VA hospital in Huntington that shares his name. This Memorial Day weekend, we reflect on the service and sacrifice Williams and so many have made for our country.
Born in 1923 in the town of Quiet Dell in Marion County, Williams grew up on a dairy farm during the Great Depression. Although he didn’t finish high school, Williams joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He tried – unsuccessfully – to enlist as a Marine after being initially denied as his 5-foot-6-inches didn’t meet the height requirements. In 1943 Williams successfully enlisted in the 3rd Division of the 21st Marines.
After the Battle of Iwo Jima, Williams received a Purple Heart and was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.
As with many who returned home after the traumas of war, Williams battled with the as yet unnamed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After all he had seen, Williams dedicated his life after the Marines to serving and honoring other veterans.
Williams served as a Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Service Representative for more than three decades, and served as the first Director of the West Virginia Veterans Home in Barboursville. Twelve years ago, he founded the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, which honors Gold Star Families. The nonprofit builds memorial monuments, provides scholarships to eligible Gold Star Children and educates communities about the sacrifices these families have made.