CHARLESTON – How do you honor a man who helped change the outcome of the Battle of Iwo Jima, who helped change the outcome of World War II to favor the Allied forces and helped secure future freedom Americans ?
The answer is simple, if you live by the mantra of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient – “the cause is greater than me”.
Williams, who died Wednesday at age 98, became only the third person to lie on Saturday at the West Virginia Capitol behind the senses. Robert C. Byrd and John E. Kenna, although Kenna was taken to the Old Capitol in downtown Charleston.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin announced Sunday that he and Senator Shelley Moore Capito had been given the green light for Williams to be in state at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC – an honor so far given to less than 40 people. Details of this service will be released at a later date.
Honor surprises no one who knew him. Williams made everyone who heard him a better person. Audiences listened better, stood taller, and walked prouder when Williams walked into a room.
As Williams joined his beloved wife, Ruby, in the afterlife, his legacy and contributions to Earth will live on for generations of Americans to follow.
Tribute to a hero
Williams’ memorial events were rightly patriotic; the day was full of marching bands, military bands and uniformed soldiers and Marines marching to the Capitol complex.
A procession of hundreds of motorcycles, law enforcement, family and his Slingshot Roadster accompanied his casket from a Huntington funeral home to the Capitol Rotunda on Saturday, where the public was invited to say a final farewell to the man who gave so much to the state, veterans and their families.
After four days of mourning, the commemorations continued until Sunday. A casket march at 2 p.m. moved Williams from the Rotunda to the Cultural Center next to the Capitol as a team of Marines saluted their hero one last time with a flyover.
Later that afternoon, Williams’ funeral service began with the Army National Guard Band and Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Troy E. Black welcoming family and guests.
Cpl. Cedar Ross and Benji Casey lead the Pledge of Allegiance — in the right way, because Williams has always lectured a crowd that a lack of a comma means there’s no break before “under God.”
Governor Jim Justice and Gen. David H. Berger, Commandant of the US Marine Corps, followed with personal remarks.
Manchin said Williams never stopped giving back and had a life well lived.
“He shared every minute of his life with us,” he said. “There was never a time when he didn’t want to make sure you understood that the greatest nation on Earth was here, and he was privileged. God blessed us. ‘to have this great nation of freedom and peace that we have. And Woody has done his job. My dear good friend, job well done.
Pastor Chuck Harding ended the service with a gospel reading.
The family remembers its hero
His daughter, Tracie Ross, said Williams stuck to a strict schedule — in her own way — so the five family members who spoke kept their remarks short.
“He lived a life of truth, service, love and compassion. He spent much of his life finding ways to help others,” she said. “I pray for may each of us follow his example and continue to make the world a better place, because he did.”
Grandson Brent Casey read Williams’ favorite poem, “My Cup Overflowed”. Grandson Bryan Casey joked he only had three minutes to speak and used them to talk about the last wishes Williams asked to be granted.
In his final moments, Williams arranged for napkins and pens to be in each aisle of his memorial service for attendees to take notes for their assigned task – to bring Gold Star monuments to their communities.
Grandsons Chad and Todd Graham spoke of their grandfather’s conviction and spirit.
“He lived what he believed. He strove to do what was right and God’s will no matter what,” Todd Graham said. “He loved people and believed that all people were basically good; probably a fault. He believed in everyone and always tried to help anyone in need.
A legacy begins
The service was followed by a wreath ceremony at the Gold Star Families Memorial on the Capitol grounds, where a Marine Band trumpeter played “Taps” before a 21-gun salute and cannon shots . A wreath was then laid at the monument, one that Williams helped create.
Honoring veterans and their families was a passion for Williams, a passion that dates back to his teenage years when he worked as a cab driver delivering War Department telegrams that a family loved one was not coming home. his home.
Williams had previously told the Herald-Dispatch that he would pass houses and see flags hanging from windows during the war, some bearing blue stars for soldiers still fighting and gold stars for those who died.
He wanted to fight to protect Americans. At 5ft 6in, Williams was rejected when he tried to join the Marines in 1942. A year later he was allowed to enlist at 19 after height restrictions were removed.
His Medal of Honor was awarded to him by President Harry S. Truman after Williams spent four hours with a 70-pound flamethrower as a corporal with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, clearing a path for American tanks , making his way through concrete pillboxes as enemy soldiers fired at him in Iwo Jima.
With four riflemen covering him, he helped annihilate enemy positions in the face of machine gun and bayonet fire so the tanks could carry on. Two of the riflemen were killed.
Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said Williams suffered casualties and that somehow, for the rest of his life, he created hope.
“For him, it was always about them, never about him,” he said. “I don’t think he served others the rest of his life because he got the Medal of Honor. He wasn’t asked to be a counselor in the VA. He didn’t honor the Gold Star families because of Iwo Jima. He did all those things because that’s who he was.
A total of 472 service members received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary bravery during World War II. Williams was the last to die.
In recent years, the Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been named in his honor, as has an 800ft warship, but none of that mattered as much to Williams as his charitable work for veterans and Gold families. Star.
The legacy lives on
Although the man many call a hero has passed away, his name and spirit lives on through the Woody Williams Foundation he established to help Gold Star families who have lost loved ones in service.
The foundation has established 103 Gold Star family memorials, with more than 62 more memorials in the works, including one at Huntington’s Memorial Park, released last week.
Even in his final moments at the Huntington VAMC, Williams was lobbying U.S. senators for projects and sharing future plans and tasks for loved ones and close friends.
Duties range from completing improvement projects at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute, West Virginia, to awarding medals to first responders for exceeding the call of duty, to constructing the monument in Huntington. Manchin is responsible for creating an interstate exit for the Huntington VAMC.
Those who knew Williams best said they were honored to grant his wishes, keeping his “cause is bigger than me” mantra to heart.