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Remembering the Life of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the Last World War II Medal of Honor Recipient

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Upon news of his passing, State officials were quick to honor the life of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in the nation and native of Quiet Dell, West Virginia.

“Today, we have lost an American hero. Woody Williams embodied the ‘Greatest Generation.’ The Americans who volunteered to fight for their country. As a Medal of Honor recipient, Woody never quit helping his country and those who served,” said Congresswoman Carol Miller (R-WV). “Woody is a hero in every sense of the word. I am grateful to have called him my friend. Woody will be sorely missed, but his legacy of service, dedication, and patriotism will live on through the countless lives he’s touched. May God be with his family during this time, and may we never forget the unyielding commitment Woody had for the United States of America. God bless Woody Williams,” continued Miller.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capita said West Virginia had lost one of its proudest sons and the United States had lost a true hero.

“I am so sad to learn that my friend Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, passed away at the age of 98. Woody embodied exactly what the Greatest Generation was all about: Service to country above self. Not only are his acts of valor on the battlefield well-documented, but the lives he touched in the years since serving had a lasting impact on every person he met. He inspired many to love their country, enter the service, and reminded everyone why our ‘nation under God’ is the greatest on earth. One of the best West Virginians we’ve ever known is now gone, but his lifetime of service and incredible legacy will be with us forever,” said Capito.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin reminisced about time he shared with Williams.

“Woody Williams was the embodiment of a true American hero. Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear. Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many across our great state and entire nation. We join all West Virginians in praying for Woody’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” said Manchin.

“Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time. 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. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built,” continued Manchin.

“Woody was a tireless advocate for all Veterans and their family members. Over the years, my staff and I worked with Woody on too many issues to name, including for Gold Star Families, improving our Veterans hospitals and healthcare, and recognizing the contributions of our service members. I will miss riding with Woody during our annual motorcycle ride for Gold Star Families; he was always my wingman. One of my most cherished memories with Woody is traveling to California and Virginia with him when his ship was commissioned and christened. During those moments, Woody showed the world the true nature of being a West Virginian with his humility and grace. As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest.”

Governor Jim Justice asked all West Virginians to pray for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States.

“Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody’s contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery, and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation,” said Justice.

“We are a state of service – with one of the highest rates of military enlistees per capita in the nation – because we are a state where people are willing to lay it all on the line to help their neighbor. We are selfless, courageous, and share a sense of duty to our state and our nation. Woody Williams was the shining example of these traits. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave because of the acts of valor displayed by Woody Williams in the spring of 1945. The tales of his bravery in Iwo Jima doubtlessly inspired generations of West Virginians to follow the call of duty in defense of our nation and our freedoms,” continued Justice.

“But while Woody earned his Medal of Honor by fighting on behalf of America in one of the most important battles in the history of civilization as we know it, we also ought to remember that his service didn’t end when he returned home at the end of that conflict over three-quarters of a century ago. In the decades after, Woody used his platform to lead the charge in another battle: an effort to honor America’s Gold Star families – those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price in defense of our freedoms – through his Woody Williams Foundation. Woody shepherded the construction of 102 Gold Star memorials in all 50 states across America to forever honor everyday Americans who have sacrificed so much. While Woody may be gone from this Earth, his selfless contributions to our state and nation will live on forever.”

Gov. Justice has offered for Williams to lie in state in the Capitol, and has also offered a State funeral to be held for Williams at the State Capitol. Additional details regarding these arrangements will be announced soon pending confirmation from the family.

The Governor will also be signing a proclamation to lower all United States and West Virginia flags to half-staff statewide in Williams honor. The proclamation will be issued once the date of his funeral is announced.

Woody Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division. During the battle, Mr. Williams displayed “valiant devotion to duty” and service above self as he “enabled his company to reach its objective.” Mr. Williams’ actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism were recognized on October 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Truman at the White House.

To date, Woody and his foundation are responsible for establishing 102 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 73 additional monuments underway in 50 states and 1 U.S. Territory. The first was dedicated in the Donnel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute. The monument at the West Virginia State Capitol is the largest.