We are traveling to Indiana today for the installation of a new Gold Star Families Memorial Monument honoring the families of servicemen and women killed in the line of duty. The Gold Star Family Memorial was created by Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams to remember those families who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Our brother-in-law, Dave Shively, is the Chairman of the committee for the Gold Star Family Memorial and lives in Lafayette and is a good friend of Woody Williams; both will be participating in the installation today. Since this is Memorial Day I thought you would find Woody’s story of interest.
Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams (born October 2, 1923) is a retired United States Marine who received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. He is also the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor from that battle.
Here’s excerpts from his MEDAL OF HONOR CITATION with a few additional notes from me:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Demolition Sergeant serving with the First Battalion, Twenty-First Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Island, February 23,1945 (he was only 21 years old!). 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, Corporal Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. (He went forward alone with his 70-pound flamethrower.) 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 flame throwers, 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 flame thrower through the air vent, kill the occupants and silence 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 in enabling his company to reach its objective. Corporal Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
(Note: These actions occurred on the same day as the raising of the U.S. flag on the island’s Mount Suribachi, although Williams was not able to witness the event. He fought through the remainder of the five-week-long battle and was wounded on March 6, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.)
In a recent article in The Atlantic magazine, they talked about “The Historic Courage of Bruce Jenner” coming out as a transgendered American. I thought Woody’s story would be a good reminder of what true historic courage is.