Abraham Lincoln created the Medal of Honor 160 years ago on July 12, 1862, to recognize American soldiers (later sailors, Marines, airmen, guardians, and coast guardsmen) who distinguished themselves with acts of valor. The medal of honor is the government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.
The award was created in many respects for men like Hershel W. “Woody” Williams. As a young 21-year-old Marine corporal during the Battle of Iowa Jima in February 1945, Williams and his unit were helping U.S. tanks clear a path for the infantry. At one point during the battle, Williams volunteered to eliminate the Japanese forces held up in pillboxes and firing down on the American troops.
After eliminating the first pillbox, Williams went back and forth refueling his flamethrower, all the while covered by just four riflemen. He continued under constant fire for four hours, taking out a total of seven pillboxes.
President Harry Truman honored Williams in September of 1945 with the Medal of Honor at the White House. Cpl. Williams citation read:
“His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective.”
I stumbled across Cpl. Williams story a few years ago and was sad to see his name pop up in the news late last month. He died Wednesday, June 29, at the VA Medical Center in Huntingdon, West Virginia. He was 98 and the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
I like to write about a lot of different things in my blog. I never met Woody Williams and I don’t really know much about the man, outside of a few old stories on his bravery, but it seems only right to take a few words and remember him. May his memory and the memory of men and women, like him who died fighting for freedom, live forever.