FAIRMONT, W. Va. -- Approximately 550,000,000 people throughout history can call themselves American. But only 0.00001 percent of them have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the Nation’s highest military decoration.
Retired Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel Williams, known more affectionately as “Woody”, is one of those Americans. He is the last living Medal of Honor recipient in West Virginia.
The state of West Virginia sought to honor Williams’ name Thursday, Oct. 18, when they dedicated the West Virginia National Guard’s newest armory, a $25 million training center, in his honor.
The 68,000 square foot Hershel “Woody” Williams Fairmont Armed Forces Reserve Center will soon be home to the 901st Medical Battalion of the Army Reserve and the 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Battalion of the West Virginia National Guard.
“I am certainly humbled and thankful that people would think me worthy to have my name placed on a building like this,” said Williams. “It’s something that will live on long after I’m gone.”
Williams, however, is no stranger to recognition in the public’s eye.
After once being told he was too short to enlist, Williams, a Quiet Dell, W.Va. native, successfully entered the Marine Corps Reserve in May of 1943. After completing basic training on Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division and joined the fight in the Pacific as an infantryman, specializing in demolitions.
Williams first saw action in the storied battles against the Japanese on Guam and Guadalcanal, before landing on a small, volcanic island just 750 miles south of Tokyo. It was there, on Iwo Jima, that Williams’ courage and dedication shined.
His Medal of Honor citation says that Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from unyielding positions. 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 flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another.
Dedication, perseverance and selfless service are the traits that define Woody Williams, said Brig. Gen. Paul Brier, vice commander of Marine Corps Forces Command. He is at the pinnacle of those we look to for those special qualities.
“When I look at my medal, I don’t necessarily think about that day,” said Williams. “Even though the events are ingrained in my mind, I think of the Marines I was serving with who gave a whole lot more than I did.”
Williams continued to exhibit those special qualities during his 17 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, during which he held every enlisted and warrant officer rank by the time he retired in 1969.
After retiring, he continued to serve with his fierce advocacy for veterans’ rights and benefits, as a civilian officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I felt I needed to pay back because of what others had done for me,” said Williams. “Whatever I could do to make the lives of others better gave me tremendous satisfaction.”
Mr. Williams is truly a national icon, an American hero, said John Nanny, the department commandant for the Marine Corps League in the state of West Virginia and a personal friend of Williams.“He is one of those rare people that you can stand in awe of,” said Nanny. “He’s the best friend you could ask for and the best advocate for anything he believes in. And you always know what he believes in because he’ll pursue it with his whole heart.”
This dedication is a valuable event for all Marines and all of West Virginia, Brier said. He sets the example for generations of service members who will enter this facility for training.
Continuing in the spirit which earned him a spot among the 3,476 Medal of Honor recipients, Williams continues to play an active role in the community; participating in his Marine Corps League chapter, and speaking at various social events as well as fundraising for the Hershel “Woody” Williams Scholarship Foundation.