Iwo Jima veteran to speak at Marine banquet Saturday

Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams of Ona, West Virginia’s only living Medal of Honor recipient and the last surviving MOH recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, will be the guest speaker during the Marine Corps League Department of West Virginia State Convention Grand Banquet beginning at 7 p.m. May 3.

The convention will be held May 2-3 at American Legion Post 29 and hosted by the MCL’s Leland D. “Crow” Crawford Detachment 956 of Elkins. Tickets for the banquet are $20 and will be available at the door or in advance by calling 304-636-4365.

Williams was born on Oct. 2, 1923, in Quiet Dell and grew up on a dairy farm. He worked a series of odd jobs in the area, including as a truck driver for W.S. Harr Construction Company of Fairmont and as a taxi driver. After being turned away once from the U.S. military for being too short, he successfully enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in Charleston on May 26, 1943.

Williams received his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif. Upon completion, he was sent to the Camp Elliott training center in San Diego, where he joined the tank training battalion on Aug. 21, 1943. The following month he was transferred to the training center’s infantry battalion for instruction as a demolition man and in the use of flamethrowers.

Williams joined the 32nd Replacement Battalion on Oct. 30, 1943, and left for New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific on Dec. 3, 1943, aboard the M.S. Weltey Reden. In January 1944, he joined the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal. He was attached to the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, first to Company C and then to Headquarters Company.

During July and August 1944, he participated in action against the Japanese at Guam, and in October he rejoined Company C.

His next campaign was at Iwo Jima where he made a landing on Feb. 21, 1945, Williams, by then a corporal, distinguished himself two days later when American tanks, trying to open a lane for infantry, encountered a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands. Williams went forward alone with his 70-pound (32 kg) flamethrower to attempt the reduction of devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions.

Covered by only four riflemen, he fought for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers. He returned to the front, frequently to wipe out one position after another. On another occasion, he charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon. He was wounded March 6, 1945, on Iwo Jima.

In September 1945, he returned to the United States, was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman on Oct. 5, 1945, at the White House. On Oct. 22, 1945, he was transferred to the Marine Barracks, Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Md., and discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on Nov. 6, 1945. In March 1948, he reenlisted in the inactive Marine Corps Reserve, but was again discharged on Aug. 4, 1949.

On Oct. 20, 1954, he joined the Organized Marine Reserve when the 98th Special Infantry Company was authorized by Marine Corps Headquarters, Clarksburg. He transferred to the 25th Infantry Company in Huntington on June 9, 1957. He later became the (Interim) Commanding Officer of that unit as a warrant officer on June 6, 1960. He was designated the Mobilization Officer for the 25th Infantry Company and surrounding Huntington area on June 11, 1963. He was advanced through the warrant officer ranks during his time in the Reserves until reaching his final rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CWO-4).

Williams retired after 33 years of service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and as the first Commandant of West Virginia’s first veterans’ home located in Barboursville. Williams is a Past Department Commandant, Marine Corps League, Department of West Virginia and also the Marine Corps League, Department of West Virginia Marine of the Year recipient and also received the West Virginia Distinguished Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and the Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor. In 2005 Williams was selected as Chaplain Emeritus after serving 35 years as Chaplain of United States Medal of Honor Society. He is a member of MCL Huntington Detachment 340.

The West Virginia National Guard’s new center in Fairmont was dedicated as the Hershel “Woody” Williams Armed Forces Reserve Center in October 2012. A bridge in Barboursville and an athletic field and Veterans Memorial Field House in Huntington also bear Williams’ name. Williams is also listed in Huntington’s “Wall of Fame.” The MCL Department of West Virginia’s Hershel “Woody” Williams Scholarship Foundation is named in his honor.

In addition, Williams also operated a horse training and show barn for 30 years and has been active in his church and veterans affairs. Williams continues to serve his country as he travels the country to churches, schools, civic and veterans’ groups making 70 to 80 public appearances a year as a motivational speaker about our nation’s patriotism and history.

Williams and his wife, the late Ruby Meredith Williams, were married 62 years and have two daughters, Travie Jane and Tracie Jean; five grandsons, including Brent, who served in Operation Desert Storm; and two great-grandsons.