Last WWII Medal of Honor Winner to Lie In State at Capitol
WASHINGTON — Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams, the longest living World War II Medal of Honor recipient, will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, July 14.
Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died in his native West Virginia on June 29 at the age of 98.
He was honored for his heroics under fire over several crucial hours during the battle for Iwo Jima.
As a young Marine corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun positions.
Facing small-arms fire, Williams fought for four hours, repeatedly returning to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers.
Later that year, the 22-year-old Williams received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor, from President Harry Truman.
Williams remained in the Marines after the war, serving a total of 20 years, before working for the Veterans Administration for 33 years as a veterans service representative.
All the while, he worked to bring Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments to more than a hundred communities across the country. Among other things, he raised money for gold star families through an annual motorcycle ride.
In 2018, the Huntington VA Medical Center was renamed in his honor, and the Navy commissioned a mobile base sea vessel in his name in 2020.
In remarks at a memorial service in Charleston, West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Williams “never quit giving back.”
Manchin said the annual motorcycle ride “raised hundreds of thousands of dollars” for lost service members’ families and vowed that it would continue or “Woody would come after me in a heartbeat.”
The senator also said he would miss Williams’ regular phone calls.
“I’ll miss him telling me how I’m supposed to vote. And when I didn’t, how I made a mistake,” Manchin said.
“Having the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient lie in state in the U.S. Capitol reflects the respect and gratitude we owe to an entire generation of veterans who have given so much to our country,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
“Woody’s tremendous display of bravery and acts of valor on the battlefield earned him the Medal of Honor, and it’s for these reasons that he deserves this tremendous honor, which will also honor the millions of men and women who have risked their lives during the war so we can enjoy the freedoms we have today,” she said. “While we have lost one of the best West Virginians we’ve ever known, his lifetime of service and incredible legacy will be with us forever.”
According to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., “Woody Williams embodied the best of America: living a life of duty, honor and courage.
“His fearless valor at Iwo Jima and throughout the Pacific Theater helped power an American victory over fascism in the Second World War and earned him a deeply deserved Medal of Honor,” Pelosi continued. “When Woody lies in honor under the Capitol Dome, it will be with immense gratitude for his service that the Congress will pay tribute to this legendary hero — and all of the patriots who fought for our nation in World War II.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile, called Williams the embodiment of “the greatest generation.”
“This is only a small tribute to someone who has made as impactful contributions to America as Woody and all our brave soldiers who fought against tyranny and defended our country in World War II,” he said.
“Whether it was for his acts of bravery in combat or his tireless advocacy for all veterans and their families, Woody made our entire country, especially his fellow West Virginians, proud,” Schumer added.
Gen. David Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, said Williams always took exception to the notion that he accomplished that feat alone. He always acknowledged the other men on his team, some of whom never returned home.
“Woody may be the most genuine person I ever met,” Berger said, adding, “He left an indelible mark on our Marine Corps. As long as there are Marines, his legacy will live on.”
Pelosi, Schumer and other members of the congressional leadership will participate in a congressional tribute to Williams at 11 a.m. Thursday, following his ceremonial arrival at the Capitol but ahead of his lying in honor.
Members of Congress will pay their respects during a viewing period from noon to 3 p.m.
A ceremonial departure will take place on the East Center Steps at 3:30 p.m.
“Woody Williams dedicated his life to the service of our nation,” said Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va. “Even this final honor, to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, was something Woody wanted for his fellow World War II Medal of Honor recipients and not himself.
“Tireless commitment to his fellow veterans and countrymen embodies the very person Woody Williams was, and this recognition will honor not just Woody but all World War II Medal of Honor recipients,” she said.