Medal of Honor recipient creates legacy honoring Gold Star families

Two days later, Williams would etch his own name into World War II records books while the flamethrower operator cleared the enemy from internal a formerly impenetrable row of “pillbox” bunkers, thwarting the U.S. Navy’s enhance across the island.

Williams, ninety six, changed into presented the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, however his service to his united states of america has been lifelong. Williams became discharged from the Marine Corps in 1945, but served in the Marine Corps Reserve until his retirement. Following the warfare, he spent 33 years as a Veterans Service Officer within the Department of Veterans Affairs and concluded his career as commandant of the Veterans Home in Barboursville, West Virginia.

But his lasting legacy is the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Established in 2012, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has spearheaded production of 60 Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments throughout america, with another sixty six registered initiatives underneath way from New York to Guam. Each multipaneled granite monument honors the households and spouse and children of provider members who’ve made the last sacrifice. The organisation also sponsors Gold Star own family outreach programs, gives Living Legacy scholarships to eligible Gold Star youngsters and advocates for instructional advantages for all Gold Star circle of relatives individuals.

While the records of “Gold Star mothers” dates to World War I, Gold Star families weren’t formally diagnosed till 2011, whilst President Barack Obama accelerated “Gold Star Mother’s Day” to include all Gold Star circle of relatives members.

“For years and years, no one pointed out someone other than Gold Star mother when someone was lost within the navy,” admits Williams, who as a youngster delivered telegrams to families whose cherished ones had been killed or wounded in movement.

Williams acquired his take-heed call in 2010 after concluding a speech highlighting Gold Star mothers. The father of a soldier killed in Afghanistan approached Williams. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he informed Williams, “Dads cry too.”

“I determined we had to do some thing, at least in our own country of West Virginia, to honor and pay tribute to the households–we’ve were given 11,000 names on a veterans’ memorial in our capitol grounds,” Williams said. “We had never completed some thing to say the households. I notion we needed to apprehend the reality they’d lost a cherished one.”

Williams started out designing a monument to honor Gold Star households. With the help of Williams’ grandsons, Bryan and Brent Casey, the foundation became established. The first Gold Star Families Memorial Monument turned into committed in 2013 on Williams’ ninetieth birthday at West Virginia’s Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery. Within a 12 months, the state’s second Gold Star Families Monument was devoted in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Other tasks soon accompanied across the country.

“It’s just like the old saying, ‘A individual dies deaths. The day their soul leaves their body and the second one while we quit to talk their name,’” stated Foundation CEO and President Chad Graham, one of Williams’ five grandsons. “That’s an important a part of what we do. The best way we will serve these households is not handiest to provide assist to them, but additionally to don’t forget their cherished ones through pronouncing their call and keeping their sacrifice in our minds.”

One of 11 youngsters, Williams grew up on a dairy farm in West Virginia. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he turned into constructing fencing on government ranchland in Montana as a part of the Civilian Conservation Corps. He had dropped out of excessive college to take part inside the Depression-era public relief application.

“I turned into 17-years-antique and had no particular interest or desire to be within the military,” Williams admits. “I knew nothing tons approximately it. But whilst Pearl Harbor turned into bombed, they called us out the next morning and told us America become going to war. Well, none folks had ever heard of Pearl Harbor. None people had heard of the South Pacific.”

Their fabled dress blue uniforms attracted Williams to the Marine Corps. But while he tried to enlist after turning 18, he turned into rejected for failing to fulfill the service’s five-feet 8-inch height requirement. When that fashionable turned into secure in 1943, Williams joined the Marines.

Williams noticed his first combat action within the Battle of Guam in July 1944. Well-skilled by fight-hardened Marines, Williams knew fear became not an choice.

“If you control your fear, in which it doesn’t manage you, you continue to operate successfully,” Williams explains. “But if the concern ever receives to the point where it’s far in control, you are executed. They need to evacuate you. You’re completed. That passed off to many people due to the fact we’re all distinct. One man or woman will sacrifice his existence to store any person else, and the other man reaches a point where he says I can’t take it anymore and leaves.”

Seven months in a while Iwo Jima, a bigger venture awaited. Williams describes his commanding officer’s selection to have a flamethrower attempt to neutralize the Japanese pillboxes as an act “bordering on desperation.” Williams volunteered, knowing he become the handiest flamethrower operator last in his business enterprise. Five others were killed or wounded.

“That turned into my activity. That changed into what I became trained to do,” Williams explains.

“Much of that day is a dream,” he provides. “Much of it I don’t even keep in mind.”

With 4 riflemen — two of whom were killed for the duration of the assignment — presenting cowl, Williams spent 4 hours evading enemy fireplace as he systematically attacked pillboxes, retreated to reload flamethrowers and demolition expenses, then headed out once more. All totaled, he destroyed seven pillboxes. His MOH citation cites two examples of his heroism that day: mounting a pillbox to shoot flame down the air vent and kill its occupants and charging attacking enemy soldiers and destroying them with a burst of flame.

“Those instances I recall,” he stated. “But all the information it took to get there and achieve this. Those details are not there.”

Seven months later whilst on Guam, Williams become ordered to his commanding standard’s tent.

“I changed into so scared.” Williams notes. “The phrases I do recall are, ‘You are being ordered again to Washington, D.C.’ If he did use the phrases ‘Medal of Honor,’ it didn’t mean a factor because I in no way heard of it. I didn’t even recognize the Medal of Honor existed. The simplest element that registered with me is I get to move home.”

Those three phrases, but, could alter Williams’ lifestyles. Until President Harry Truman offered him the MOH in October 1945, Williams’ plan was to return to farming. Instead, he became a reluctant hero.

“From the minute the medal was provided to me, I took on a brand new lifestyles,” Williams said. “I modified from a country boy to a public parent. It turned into very difficult for me to make that adjustment. I become very shy, very bashful, backward. I had one year of high faculty. Speaking earlier than corporations of humans changed into in reality devastating.”

That could exchange as Williams became an recommend for veterans in West Virginia and throughout the country. Since the founding of his foundation, Williams has attended nearly each Gold Star Families Monument willpower — 57 of 60 to date. He spent 220 days on the street last 12 months in assist of Gold Star circle of relatives and veterans reasons.

On March 7, the last living MOH recipient from the Pacific Theater will journey to Norfolk, Va., for another seminal occasion, the commissioning of the usHershel “Woody” Williams (ESB-four), an Expeditionary Sea Base Ship.

“A us of a boy from West Virginia that never dreamed of ever being in public has a ship that weighs 90,000 tons, that’s 10-testimonies tall, 825 feet lengthy, that’s going to hold helicopters and all sorts of armaments and sail our seven seas together with his call on it,” Williams said. “How can that take place to a little guy like me? Yet it does take place in America, due to the fact that’s America.”

Williams will wear his MOH whilst he attends the fee. While most recipients don’t shine their medals, Williams polishes his.

“I shine it for a purpose,” he stated. “I preserve it shined for the ones two Marines that sacrificed their lives to make it viable. I wear it of their honor.”

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