'Woody' Williams Says He's Thrilled to Receive Honor

Hershel “Woody” Williams greets people from Gainesville, Texas, during the Medal of Honor Parade, April 11, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyle Gese)
Hershel “Woody” Williams greets people from Gainesville, Texas, during the Medal of Honor Parade, April 11, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kyle Gese)

FAIRMONT -- Days after being told he would have a Navy ship named after him, Hershel "Woody" Williams is still in disbelief.

"There's an old saying about being on cloud nine, and I think I'm on about cloud 49," Williams said. "I'm not sure I'm back to Earth yet."

Last week, Williams received a call from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus letting him know that the Navy intends to name Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) 4 after the Fairmont native.

"I'm thrilled but very surprised," Williams said.

Williams was born in Fairmont in October 1923 and is the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima.

According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, Williams earned his Medal of Honor for heroism at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

In addition, Williams also earned the Purple Heart after being wounded in the battle.

Williams, now 91, was discharged in November of 1945 and went on to work with the Veterans Administration. He worked with veterans in West Virginia for more than 35 years.

Many efforts have gone into influencing Mabus to name a ship after Williams.

One of those included a letter from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that he sent to the secretary in February.

"I am thrilled the U.S. Navy will name a Navy ship after WWII Medal of Honor recipient and my dear friend, Woody Williams," Manchin stated in a release.

Williams said close family and friends of his have been trying to get a ship named for him since 1997.

"It's been going on ever since and sort of died down about five or six years ago," he said.

In March, Williams went back to visit Iwo Jima for the first time since the war. He also took his grandsons with him, one of which served in Desert Storm.

Mabus was at a ceremony Williams attended during the visit.

While meeting with Mabus during the ceremony, Williams said his grandson told Mabus about previous efforts.

"Mabus had told us that at one time the Navy had the largest file of anyone trying to get a ship named for someone else," Williams said. "And that file was for me. He then said it's time to get rid of that material and do something about it."

Although Williams received that call on Oct. 21, he said he still can't get over the fact that a ship will be named after him.

"I'm honored," he said. "I'm thrilled that people think I'm worthy of having a ship with my name on it. It still hasn't fully registered with me."

The ship that will have Williams' name on it is the fourth of its kind.

Capt. Patrick McNally, the special assistant for public affairs to the Secretary of the Navy, said the Navy will take delivery of the ship in late 2017.

McNally said the vessel will be 748 feet long and will feature a 52,000-square-foot flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, repair spaces, magazines and mission planning spaces.

McNally said the ship has a capacity to accommodate up to 250 personnel. He said the ship will support multiple missions including air mine counter measures (AMCM), counter-piracy operations, maritime security operations and disaster relief missions.

"The vessel will be capable of supporting MH-53 and MH-60 helicopters," McNally said.

The ship is currently being built by General Dynamics Nassco in San Diego, California.

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