The last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II has passed on from this life at 98 years old.
Marine veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams died Wednesday at 3:15 a.m. at the Huntington, West Virginia, Veterans Affairs hospital named after him, according to a statement from his foundation.
“Woody peacefully joined his beloved wife Ruby while surrounded by his family at the VA Medical Center which bears his name,” according to the statement on the foundation’s Facebook page. “Woody’s family would like to express their sincere gratitude for all the love and support.”
Born in 1923 on a dairy farm in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, Williams was the youngest of 11 children, according to the Weirton, West Virginia, Daily Times.
Initially disqualified for being too short, Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943, according to his biography. The demolition sergeant landed on Iwo Jima on Feb. 21, 1945, with 1st Battalion, 21st Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
Two days later, on Feb. 23, 1945, he famously destroyed enemy emplacements with a flamethrower, going forward alone into machinegun fire, covered only by four riflemen.
His citation states, “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,” before wiping out one enemy position after another.
On one occasion, he “daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent,” which killed all enemy occupants and silenced its gun.
Williams received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman at the White House in October 1945 for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
He retired after serving 20 years in the Corps and reserves, according to his foundation’s website. Following World War II, he worked for the VA for 33 years as a veterans service representative.
He had a special place in his heart for supporting Gold Star Families, an affinity which started at the beginning of World War II. While he was delivering Western Union telegrams containing the news of the loss of a loved one, he developed a deep understanding of the sacrifice of “those lost serving in the military for their country.”
With his foundation, Williams established more than 100 Gold Star Families memorial monuments across the United States, with 72 more on the way, according to his foundation’s website.
In 2020, the war hero got to see a Navy expeditionary mobile base ― the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams ― commissioned in his honor.
He said at the time, “May all those who serve aboard this ship that bears my name be safe and proud. May she have God’s blessings for a long life of service to America, the greatest country on Earth.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, said in a Wednesday statement that Williams was “the embodiment of a true American hero.”
“Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time,” Manchin said. “We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation. In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar ― his most recent Veterans project ― to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and Veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year.”
Details about memorial services and a funeral are not yet available, according to a statement on his foundation’s Facebook page. City flags in Huntington, West Virginia, will be flown at half mast to honor the Marine veteran.
Correspondence and condolences may be sent to the Woody Williams Foundation at 12123 Shelbyville Road, Suite 100, Louisville, Kentucky, 40243.
“Woody’s wish is that people continue to carry on his mission,” the foundation’s statement said.
Andrea Scott is editor of Marine Corps Times. On Twitter: @_andreascott.