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Joint Base Andrews News

NEWS | July 15, 2022

MOH recipient arrives at JBA to be honored at U.S. Capitol

By Airman 1st Class Matthew-John Braman, 316th Wing Public Affairs

The team at Joint Base Andrews honored the late retired Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel "Woody" Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, with an arrival at Joint Base Andrews, Md., July 13, 2022. Williams’ remains arrived from West Virginia to lie in honor in the United States Capitol building. Williams passed away on June 29, 2022, at the age of 98, surrounded by his family in West Virginia.

The lie in honor tradition for Williams began on July 14, 2022, kicked off by an official ceremony as the casket was laid inside the Capitol Rotunda. The viewing started at 11 a.m. and concluded at 3:30 p.m. Williams had requested his body lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol, not for himself, but to represent all World War II Medal of Honor recipients.

Following the ceremony, Williams’ family held a wreath laying at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The ceremony included remarks by Maj. Gen. James H. Adams, deputy director of requirements and capability development, J-8, Joint Staff, W.Va. Sen. Joe Manchin, and Medal of Honor recipient Cpl. Kyle Carpenter; Medal of Honor recipient Jim McCloughan sang the national anthem. The family placed a wreath both at the base of the West Virginia panel and at the wall of the 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 American military lives lost during WWII.

On July 15, Williams was carried by Marines Barracks Body Bearers and placed into a C-130 Hercules after a joint departure ceremony on the flightline at Joint Base Andrews. Following a memorial service that will take place on the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB-4) at the Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, he will be laid to rest at his home in West Virginia.

Williams was in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Great Depression work relief program, when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. This event motivated him to join the military.

“I asked for my release, so I could go home to be in the military,” said Williams in an interview with the Marines in 2015. “When I turned 18, I went to the recruiting office and filled out the paperwork. The marine didn’t even look at it. He just looked at me and said ‘you’re too short’.”

Williams was 5 feet, 6 inches tall. It wasn’t until early 1943 that the Marine Corps allowed those of a shorter height to enlist, which is exactly what he did on May 26, 1943, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves. He received his recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California.

Williams was transferred to the Infantry Battalion at the Training Center at Camp Elliot, San Diego, California, as a flamethrower demolition operator. In January 1944, he joined the 3rd Marine Division at the island of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. He deployed from there to Iwo Jima, Japan, where he earned the Medal of Honor for heroic actions.

On Feb. 23, 1945, 21-year-old Williams, along with four riflemen, fought for four hours against enemy concrete dug-in guard posts called pillboxes. Two of the riflemen were killed. Williams crawled up to one pillbox where an enemy machine gun was firing 750 rounds per-minute, and stuck one of his six flamethrowers down the air ventilation pipe, eliminating all enemies inside.

“It is very possible that if two marines had not given their lives protecting mine, I would not be privileged to wear this medal,” said Williams in his 2015 interview with the Marines. “That day, I did the work, which resulted in my receiving the medal.”

Williams received his Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman on Oct. 5, 1945, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

His citation reads “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, 3d 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.”