Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images
We’ve lost another one of the greatest from the Greatest Generation.
Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor for his service in World War II, has passed away at the age of 98.
Williams was a West Virginia native who applied for the Marines because he liked their dress blue uniforms. In an interview with the Washington Post, Williams said that the Army’s brown wool uniform “was the ugliest thing in town.”
“I decided, ‘I do not want to be in that thing. I want to be in those dress blues.’”
He was initially rejected by the Marines after the attack on Pearl Harbor because he was too short, but after the military relaxed their height requirements, he finally got in.
Williams would end up in Guadalcanal, where he and his fellow Marines would have to teach themselves how to use flamethrowers.
And just a year later, he would find himself at Iwo Jima.
As Williams and his fellow soldiers came ashore, they were faced with a fortress of Japanese pillboxes: Fortified barricades with holes in them for enemy soldiers to point their weapons through to take out invaders.
Williams took the flamethrower, and his fellow Marines covered him. But one by one, they started dropping and Williams found himself clearing out the pillboxes alone.
He recalled going up to one pillbox and seeing a machine gun sticking out of the hole. With bullets bouncing off the tanks of his flamethrower, he blasted them with “a big ball of flame” and took out the enemy combatants. He noticed smoke coming out of the ventilation holes of another fortress. He stuck the flamethrower in through the vent, and in his words, “got ’em all.”
During the rest of his time in Iwo Jima, Williams would be wounded by shrapnel and would ultimately be awarded a Purple Heart.
And when he returned home, he was recognized by President Harry S Truman with the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor that can be given to a soldier for their acts of valor in service to their country. Until his passing, Williams was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
After the war, Williams would go on to take a job as a Veterans Affairs counselor, a position in which he would serve for more than three decades.
In 2020, the US Navy named a ship, the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, after the American hero. And in his home state of West Virginia, there’s a VA medical center and a National Guard armory that bear the name of one of the greatest heroes to ever come out of the Mountain State.
The news of Williams’ passing was reported by the Woody Williams Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for Gold Star Families who have lost loved ones in war.
And the tributes are pouring in for this American hero:
Hershel “Woody” Williams, America’s last living WWII #MedalofHonor recipient, passed away this morning at 98. Woody exemplified a life of service through his bravery during the Battle of Iwo Jima, as an advocate for veterans & through the @WWFoundation serving Gold Star Families. pic.twitter.com/ydZzuy171V
Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams, passed away this morning at the age of 98. An absolutely amazing man, it was an honor to know him and call him friend. God bless you brother. Rest In Peace. https://t.co/iuu7CpJ4Ixpic.twitter.com/MmbEJsy0q5
Woody Williams was the embodiment of a true American hero. Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear. Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many. pic.twitter.com/gTLaw9F4IP