WWII hero, last Medal of Honor recipient Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams dies at 98

Williams was a Medal of Honor recipient and touched the lives of many

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (Keith Srakocic, Associated Press)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – On Wednesday, an American hero, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient of World War II, passed away at 98 years old.

Hershel “Woody” Williams dedicated his life to serving our country by serving in the Marines for 20 years, then going on to make a significant impact in the veteran community.

“Today, America lost not just a valiant Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient, but an important link to our Nation’s fight against tyranny in the Second World War,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. “I hope every American will pause to reflect on his service and that of an entire generation that sacrificed so much to defend the cause of freedom and democracy.”

As a young Marine corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific Ocean in February 1945 and eliminated a series of Japanese machine-gun positions.

Later that year, at age 22, Williams received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman at the White House.

“For me, receiving the Medal of Honor was actually the lifesaver because it forced me to talk about the experiences that I had, which was a therapy that I didn’t even know I was doing,” Williams said during a 2018 Boy Scouts recognition ceremony in Fairmont, according to the Times West Virginian.

Williams relied on his fiancée, Ruby, to get him through the often anxious times during the war, saying he had to get back to the girl in Fairmont that he was going to marry.

Their marriage lasted 62 years. Ruby Williams died in 2007 at age 83. The couple had two daughters and five grandsons.

Williams touched the lives of many, especially those that were involved in the veteran community.

In a post on Facebook, Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, wrote fondly about Williams and his life.

“Simply put, whenever the call to serve came, Woody answered and delivered,” McDonough said. “The legacy that Woody leaves behind reaches across generations and across the nation.”

Even after his service in the war, Williams came home and became a Veteran Service Representative at VA where he served fellow Veterans for 33 years before retiring, according to McDonough.

Williams didn’t stop there, either. He went on to create a Louisville, Kentucky-based nonprofit foundation to raise money and establish more than 100 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in recognition of relatives of lost service members across the United States, according to his website.

The VA Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia now bears his name, and his true legacy can be found in the countless lives that he touched over his 98 years.

“In one way or another during his amazing life, Woody Williams fought for all of us—and we are all forever in his debt. We at VA mourn Woody Williams, and our hearts go out to his family and all those who loved him,” said Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Williams’ services will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the state Culture Center in Charleston. Visitations will be conducted Saturday and before Sunday’s service in the nearby Capitol rotunda.


About the Authors:

Alli Graham came aboard the digital team as an evening digital content producer in June 2022.