CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Navy is going to name a ship after the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, a victory that proved to be a turning point in World War II.
The Navy will officially announce its plans to honor Hershel “Woody” Williams at a Jan. 14 ceremony in Charleston, W. Va., according to West Virginia news station WSAZ.
Williams, 91, from the state’s Cabell County, was presented with the valor award for clearing a series of Japanese pill boxes with a flamethrower under heavy fire during the bloody 1945 battle that claimed the lives of more than 6,800 U.S. servicemembers and wounded another 19,000. He then refused evacuation despite shrapnel wounds. The battle was immortalized in the iconic “flag-raising” photo by The Associated Press’ Joe Rosenthal.
Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Williams salutes as the national anthem is sung before the Military Bowl football game in Annapolis, Md., Dec. 28, 2015.
The move to name a ship after Williams picked up steam in February when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., submitted a request to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The announcement was first made in October; however, few details were available.
“I am thrilled the U.S. Navy will name a Navy ship after World War II Medal of Honor recipient and my dear friend, Woody Williams,” Manchin said in a statement in October. “Naming a ship after Woody is a lifelong tribute to Woody’s brave actions and his dedication to public service.”
In recent years, Williams has taken up championing veterans issues through his nonprofit, The Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. He returned to Iwo Jima — now called Iwo To — in March for the battle’s 70th anniversary ceremony. He told Stars and Stripes he remembered the bullets bouncing off the body of his flame thrower, which was strapped to his back, as he sought cover from withering Japanese fire.
“If we had never put Old Glory on Mount Suribachi, it would have been just another campaign,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “The flag is what energized everything that took place. Our morale was dragging, we had lost so many guys. When that flag when up on the 23rd [of February], we got a new spirit. We are going to win this thing.”
Medal of Honor Citation Hershel W. Williams February 1945
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as demolition sergeant serving with the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945. 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, Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 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 1 position after another. On 1 occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing 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 vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective. Cpl. Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.