According to Bill Bartel’s article, Aboard the Iwo Jima, hero recalls epic battle in The Virginian-Pilot, WWII Medal of Honor recipient; Hershel “Woody” Williams was invited by the Navy to a remembrance ceremony aboard the USS Iwo Jima at Norfolk Naval Station on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011.
Williams was only 17 when he joined the Marines. His accomplishments on Iwo Jima are legendary. He landed on Iwo Jima on February 21, 1945, then a corporal and 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 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 the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. At one point, a wisp of smoke alerted him to the air vent of a Japanese bunker, and he approached close enough to put the nozzle of his flamethrower through the hole, killing the occupants. 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.” Wikipedia
He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman on October 5, 1945, at the White House.
From the article:
“He repeated for his audience Wednesday what Marine Commandant Alexander Vandegrift told him in October 1945, shortly after President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Williams.
“That medal does not belong to you,” Vandegrift said. It belongs to all the Marines who never came home. Don’t do anything to tarnish it, he said.
“The words stuck.”
“I wear it especially for two Marines who, on Feb. 23, 1945, gave their lives protecting mine,” Williams said. “I claim only to be the caretaker of the medal.”
Williams served in the Marine Corps Reserve, Organized Marine Reserve when the 98th Special Infantry Company was authorized by Marine Corps Headquarters, Clarksburg, West Virginia, the 25th Infantry Company in Huntington, West Virginia as (Interim) Commanding Officer of that unit Mobilization Officer for the 25th Infantry Company. He was advanced through the warrant officer ranks during his time in the Reserves until reaching his final rank of Chief Warrant Officer.
Though Williams struggled with the after-effects of combat stress until 1962, he experienced a religious renewal and later served as chaplain of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for 35 years.
Read more of Bill Bartel’s article, Aboard the Iwo Jima, hero recalls epic battle with photos of the ceremony.
Video from the National WWII Museum:
also see the Hershel “Woody” Williams interview with Ed Tracy at the Pritzker Military Library