The final surviving Earth War II Medal of Honor receiver died at 3:15 a.m. on June 29, 2022, at the age of 98, surrounded by his family, who claimed that Hershel Woodrow Williams—Woody, to those people who realized him—“went residence to be with the Lord.” The hero of Iwo Jima, Williams was a person of the biggest customers of the Greatest Generation. His spouse Ruby experienced predeceased him in 2007 soon after 62 a long time of marriage. In the course of the Second Environment War, Williams experienced targeted on getting back again to his fiancée in Fairmont, Virginia. As soon as again, he has.
I experienced the privilege of interviewing Williams before he died. An normal American farm boy from Tranquil Dell, West Virginia, he explained escalating up during the Terrific Melancholy. Points have been harder for his relatives than most after his father died of a heart attack when he was 11 and various siblings died during a flu pandemic. His earliest memories were of milking by hand, glass quart or pint bottles, and the massive blocks of ice needed to keep all the things from spoiling. The relatives automobile was a Product A Ford (and later on a very classy Design T).
Woody joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940 at age 16 (as did his brothers), earning a whopping $21 a month. He was with the CCC in Whitehall, Montana when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. Like so many other American boys, he tried out to signal up proper absent in spite of his age. He required parental authorization and his mom refused to give it. He understood what he was volunteering for—during the early days of the war, he shipped dying telegrams to Gold Star Family members. He experienced to wait until eventually he was 18, and in Could 1943, right after education in California, he transported out for the Pacific. His brothers had been currently in Europe.
Woody’s first stop was Guadalcanal, which the Americans experienced taken in 1942. “We stayed for 6 months, and then we delivered out to be support for the Next Maritime Division—we had been the Third—which was attacking Saipan,” he informed me. “We had been out in the ocean in scenario they essential additional Marines. They did not.” It was on the beach front on Guam that Woody very first tasted combat. “It was most likely 1 of the scariest moments of my time. We had to get off the boats out in the h2o, knee-significant to waistline-superior, to wade ashore. The Japanese were being capturing and dropping mortars on us. The moment we bought ashore we could start out digging a foxhole or get behind some thing.”
When they left Guam for Iwo Jima, Woody and his fellow Marines experienced no notion where they had been likely until they ended up out on the ocean. “We experienced just gone 19 miles from shoreline to coastline on Guam, and my squad, including me, could not figure out why we would go get these types of a minor place,” he recalled. “It was only 2.4 miles by five—it couldn’t be a lot of just about anything.” They have been informed they have been a reserve device and would almost certainly be back on Guam in a 7 days without having disembarking. They experienced no intelligence on Iwo Jima and did not still know that the island was crisscrossed by miles of tunnels and 22,000 ready Japanese.
On February 19, 1945, the 1st division strike the island. Woody was even now out on the ocean, and he couldn’t see or hear just about anything in addition to the occasional aircraft heading by. All over midnight, the ship’s loudspeakers crackled to lifestyle, announcing that thanks to the amount of casualties, the reduction troops would be hitting the island right before dawn. The men stuffed down chow at a few in the morning, gathered their gear, and piled into the boats. Right after a total day on the water, they had been compelled to transform back. The 4th and 5th Maritime Divisions had not captured a large plenty of beachhead for a landing. Soon after yet another 3 a.m. meal, they headed back again out. Woody Williams landed on Iwo Jima with the Initially Battalion, 21st Marines on February 21, 1945.
It was a brutal, bloody battle.
On the 23rd, we ended up nonetheless battling for the 1st airfield. They experienced pillboxes shielding it. We tried using to advance. They had been inside of of a concrete structure we ended up out in the open up, running from one placement to yet another. We were a excellent goal. We retained losing Marines and could not break by means of. Each time we’d try out, they’d get rid of another group of us and we had to be retreat. I had six Marines below me when we landed. We ended up all flame-thrower and demolition trained—we could possibly melt away it up or blow it up. My task in charge of the device was to make certain the operators had whatsoever they needed. By the 23rd, these Marines have been long gone. I have by no means regarded regardless of whether they were wounded or killed, but I was the previous flame-thrower in C Firm.
What Williams did future would generate him just one of the most prestigious navy awards in the history of beat. Lined by four riflemen, he fought for 4 hours to distinct the pillboxes below frequent enemy fire, returning all over again and all over again to American strains to get ready much more demolitions expenses and fetch much more flamethrowers. When I requested him to explain it, he sounded as if he were reciting a report: “I was capable to get rid of the enemy in seven of individuals pillboxes. We could not do something about the pillboxes they were developed potent with concrete that experienced metal rods in it. Artillery, bazookas—it did not do anything at all to them. They have been totally guarded. They experienced an aperture across the front of just about every pillbox that was eight inches in top, and that’s where they could stick their rifles and machine guns out—and that was the only put we could strike.”
To distinct the pillboxes, Woody had to get close plenty of to pour hearth by way of the openings. “Much of that working day I do not recall,” he informed me with a chuckle.
It’s one particular of those people items I have lived with all my lifetime. How did I seriously do it? Why was not I wounded or strike with shrapnel or bullets in those 4 several hours? They never ever touched me. But some of all those pillboxes are absolutely not in my memory bank at all. I can keep in mind a few of ‘em vividly. But 1 of the issues that has unquestionably bugged me—I’ve talked to a range of folks and I haven’t been ready to get a fantastic response: How did I get people other 5 flamethrowers? I don’t forget the initial one particular pretty very well. Getting off people 4 Marines who ended up assigned to me and inserting them in which they could shoot at the pillbox I was going to broach. But how I bought the added flamethrowers is a single of these items that has never been in my memory.
What Woody did recall was remarkable. With 70 kilos on his back, he approached the enemy. “I was crawling toward that pillbox in a ditch that the Japanese experienced dug to enable them to go from one pillbox to a further with out heading earlier mentioned ground,” he instructed me. “They ended up capturing at me with a Nambu equipment gun. I keep in mind bullets ricocheting off the back of my flamethrower. I saw smoke coming out of the leading of the pillbox, so when they ended up reloading I jumped up and ran to the side to get out of their line of hearth. Which is when I resolved I’d go up on prime of the pillbox to see the place the smoke was coming from, simply because if there was a gap up there, I could put flame down via it.”
Woody had to get near to the pillboxes—less than 20 yards, or the flame would disperse and fan out. “If I shot it in the air it would not go wherever, and about a few seconds of flame would roll for many yards until finally it strike a pillbox,” he explained to me. “When it hit, it was enormous, 10 or twelve toes in diameter, so it would just penetrate whatsoever opening was in that pillbox. That’s what I was striving to do when they came charging out. I by no means understood whether or not they had been out of ammunition or just determined that the way to get me was to have quite a few of them arrive with bayonets. I even now experienced flame still left, so when they came all around the pillbox charging at me, I just strike them with a major old ball of flame. That burns bodies up and catches the dresses on fire, and it takes all the oxygen out of the air promptly and they die.” The scent of burning flesh would haunt Woody for many years.
It was a 4-hour combat, and Woody Williams witnessed the function that would become an icon: The American flags remaining elevated on Mt. Suribachi. He was 1,000 yards absent from the volcano. “When the flag went up on Iwo, we were nevertheless at the edge of the airfield, striving to get throughout. That was prior to the time that we experienced gotten across.” The island, Woody remembered, was a nightmare of 800 pillboxes, made very carefully alongside one another with interlocking fields of fireplace. His war would very last yet another 5 weeks, and on March 6 he was struck in the leg by shrapnel.
“They set a tag on you so that the people coming to aid you get back again to the rear to the help station will know who you are and that you are meant to be taken back again. A corpsman place 1 of those tags on me and informed me that I had to go back. I claimed: I’m not going to go. He was not very delighted about that and explained pretty forcefully: You will have to go. We’d been explained to in advance of getting into fight that whichever the corpsman states is law. I tore the tag off and mentioned: I really don’t have a tag on me.” Williams chuckled. “Then he experienced to go somewhere else so he didn’t have a prospect to put a next 1 on me. It was not poor enough that I couldn’t keep on to fight, and we were down to so number of Marines that we needed everyone we could get. The day before that we ended up down to 17 in our company. We wanted persons.”
Woody located out in October of 1945 that he would be acquiring the Medal of Honor. Despite all he’d been by on Guam and Iwo Jima, it was getting called to the general’s tent by his to start with sergeant (he was a corporal) that he located terrifying: “To a tiny ole country boy who was incredibly shy and bashful and backward it was very nerve-wracking.” When he arrived at the tent, a colonel informed him that he’d will need to go inside of and stand at focus until eventually the basic instructed him what to do. “I was absolutely frightened. He advised me to stand at ease, and then instructed me some text.” These words involved congratulations and the announcement that he was headed to Washington by using Hawaii. There, he would acquire the Medal from President Harry Truman himself alongside with thirteen other folks.
“I never dreamed I would ever see a president, allow alone get that near to just one,” and by the time Truman got to Woody, he was a anxious wreck. “My body was shaking and I could not management it. When I walked up to him, he shook hands with me, and then somebody handed him the medal to set close to my neck. He did that, and then he laid his still left hand on my appropriate shoulder and said to me: I would rather have this medal than be president. He shook arms with me all over again and saved his hand on my shoulder, and jokingly claimed he did that so I would not bounce out of my sneakers.”
But when I requested Woody which memories stood out, it was none of people. “One of the most unforgettable experiences I have carried with me all these several years was finding on that plane from Guam to Hawaii with People who experienced been prisoners of war of the Japanese, some of them up to five several years. Gentlemen that experienced at 1 time weighted 170 or 180 pounds now weighed 80 or 90 lbs .. They seemed like skeletons. They really did. Their cheeks were being hollow, their eyes had been sunken, you could see each and every bone in their human body. That left a long lasting perception on me that I’ll never ignore. They have been definitely the happiest men and women that I imagine I have ever viewed in my daily life mainly because now they had been totally free.” A former POW shared his experiences with Woody: the function timetable, the torture. In fact, Woody discovered that his seat on the airplane experienced been specified for one more former POW who experienced died before he could make the flight. “And then he manufactured a statement I’ve under no circumstances forgotten: ‘You will by no means know what liberty is right until you have lost it.’ I have in no way overlooked that.”
Woody Williams struggled with article-beat stress right up until 1962, torturing himself about the males that he experienced killed. His father, he told me, would not even permit his sons damage a bird—and he had immolated males with a flamethrower. It was by conversations with a pastor that he came to the Christian faith and, finally, healing. Like so lots of other heroes, Williams carried the war with him for the rest of his lifestyle, and he set up a foundation to erect memorials for Gold Star Families to maintain the memory of the dead.
He was one of the final types, and in a couple extra years, Woody’s war will have passed from human memory into the shadow of record. As Maritime Corps Commandant Typical David Berger reported: “As the final of America’s ‘Greatest Generation’ to acquire the Medal of Honor, we will permanently carry with us the memory of his selfless perseverance to those who manufactured the greatest sacrifice to our wonderful Country. The Marine Corps is privileged to have quite a few heroes, but there is only a person Woody Williams. Semper Fidelis, Marine.”
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and professional-lifestyle activist. His commentary has appeared in Countrywide Evaluate, The European Conservative, the National Post, and in other places. Jonathon is the author of The Society War and Observing Is Believing: Why Our Society Should Encounter the Victims of Abortion as properly as the co-author with Blaise Alleyne of A Manual to Discussing Assisted Suicide.