The last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from the second world war will lie in state at the US Capitol, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin announced at a memorial on Sunday where the late marine was remembered for his courage, humility and selflessness.
“He never quit giving back,” Manchin said of Hershel W “Woody” Williams. That included raising money for gold star families – immediate family members of fallen service members – with an annual motorcycle ride.
“It’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Manchin said. He joked that the annual ride would not “be stopping, because Woody would come after me in a heartbeat”.
Manchin, a Democrat, said he would miss Williams’ phone calls, noting how the military veteran would always give him directions and to-do lists. “I’ll miss him telling me how I’m supposed to vote,” Manchin said. “And when I didn’t, how I made a mistake.”
Williams, who died on Wednesday aged 98, was a legend in his native West Virginia for his heroics under fire over several crucial hours at the Battle of Iwo Jima.
As a young US 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, Williams – then 22 – received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. The Medal of Honor is America’s highest award for military valour.
The commandant of the US Marine Corps, General David Berger, said at the memorial that 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, noting his unique combination of humility and humour. “He could make you laugh. He could make you care. That was his gift.”
Williams remained in the marines after the war, serving a total of 20 jare. He later worked for the Veterans Administration for 33 years as a veterans service representative.
In 2018, a medical centre in Huntington, Virginia, was renamed in his honour, and the navy commissioned a mobile base sea vessel in his name in 2020.
“He left an indelible mark on our Marine Corps,” Berger said. “As long as there are marines, his legacy will live on.”