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  • Oct
  • 2018
Man of Pure Heart and Honor

By Lance Cpl. Tessa Watts , Marine Corps Forces Reserves

Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commanding general of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, reads a letter written by Gen. Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, addressing retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, for his 95th birthday at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Part of the letter stated, “This is a remarkable milestone and I hope it will offer you the opportunity to reflect on a lifetime of achievements.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Tessa D. Watts)
Hershel "Woody" Williams 95th Birthday Celebration
Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commanding general of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, reads a letter written by Gen. Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps, addressing retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, for his 95th birthday at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Part of the letter stated, “This is a remarkable milestone and I hope it will offer you the opportunity to reflect on a lifetime of achievements.” (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Tessa D. Watts)
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, explains the importance behind the Gold Star Flag and the Blue Star Flag to the attendees of his 95th birthday party at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Williams established the “Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation” in 2010. The foundation encourages the establishment of Gold Star family Memorial Monuments. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tessa D. Watts)
Hershel "Woody" Williams 95th Birthday Celebration
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, explains the importance behind the Gold Star Flag and the Blue Star Flag to the attendees of his 95th birthday party at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Williams established the “Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation” in 2010. The foundation encourages the establishment of Gold Star family Memorial Monuments. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tessa D. Watts)
The Victory Belles, a vocal trio, sing the Marines’ Hymn during the 95th birthday party of retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient of the Battle of Iwo Jima, at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1943 and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division in 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Tessa D. Watts)
Hershel "Woody" Williams 95th Birthday Celebration
The Victory Belles, a vocal trio, sing the Marines’ Hymn during the 95th birthday party of retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient of the Battle of Iwo Jima, at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1943 and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division in 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Tessa D. Watts)
Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commanding general of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, presents a slice of cake to retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, during Williams’ 95th birthday party at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1943 and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division in 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Tessa D. Watts)
Hershel "Woody" Williams 95th Birthday Celebration
Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James, commanding general of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, presents a slice of cake to retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, during Williams’ 95th birthday party at the National World War II Museum, Oct. 2, 2018. Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1943 and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division in 1945. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl Tessa D. Watts)

A birthday celebration was held at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Oct 2, 2018 for retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima. A man with bright eyes and heartwarming laughter, 95 years old never looked so youthful.

Williams watched as his brothers were drafted into the U.S. Army and decided he wanted to become a U.S. Marine. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1943 and retired after approximately 17 years of service.

“I joined the Marine Corps primarily because I knew nothing about the Marine Corps,” Williams said. “I was totally uneducated about the armed forces. The Marines were always very sharp, neat, polite, treated women very respectfully, and it caught my eye.”

Williams joined the Corps with the ambition to protect the country he called home. Little did he know, he would end up on enemy territory fighting for the freedom he loved so dearly.

 “I thought that we would stay right here in the United States of America to protect our country and our freedom, so nobody could take this country away from us,” Williams said. “In boot camp, I was being trained by individuals who had been in combat. They were teaching us that if we were going to win, if we were going to survive, we had to fight a war.”

A boy from West Virginia working on a farm, Williams underwent the same honorable transformation endured by those before him and those after him; becoming a U.S. Marine headed overseas to enemy territory to defend his country.

“In boot camp, a person’s life completely changes,” Williams said. “From the time they arrive to the time they graduate, they become a new person. There is a spirit created within us that I cannot explain. It makes you so proud to be a Marine.”

Every Marine a rifleman, Williams had another asset that made him valuable to the Marine Corps and the war effort. He was selected to carry and use a flamethrower during World War II.

“Naturally, we were all trained to be a rifleman first,” Williams said. “I was selected to be in a special weapons unit with a demolition flamethrower. Flamethrowers were being used a lot in the Pacific because of caves, and on Iwo Jima there were many reinforced concrete pillboxes that bazookas, artillery, and mortars couldn’t affect.”

Little did he know, his actions with that flamethrower would earn him the Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945 for his heroic actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

“At that point in time, I did not understand what I was receiving,” Williams said. “I had never heard of the Medal of Honor. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. As far as I was concerned, I was just doing what I was trained to do at Iwo Jima. That was my job. It wasn’t anything special.”

After receiving the Medal of Honor at the White House in Washington, D.C., Williams was called upon to speak to the 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alexander Archer Vandegrift. A conversation of a lifetime, something very specific stuck with Williams despite the fear of speaking to a man known to never crack a smile.

“When the commandant spoke to me, much of what he said I do not recall because I was too scared,” Williams said as he laughed. “One of the things he did say that registered and has never escaped me is ‘that medal does not belong to you. It belongs to all of those Marines that never got to come home. Don’t ever do anything that would tarnish that medal.’ I remember those words very well.”

Williams joined the Marine Corps with a pure heart, dedicated to perform his duty to his country. Those duties ended up being significant enough to earn himself the Medal of Honor. A hero in the eyes of many, when he looks in the mirror he sees a man who was simply doing his job and caring for the fellow Marines around him.

With the distant gaze of a mind recalling nostalgic memories, “We were just Marines looking out for each other,” Williams said.