My Turn: Woody Williams — a friend and American hero

  • Hershel “Woody” Williams, center, is photographed April 6, 2019, in Owensboro, Kentucky.   GREG EANS/THE MESSENGER-INQUIRER VIA AP, FILE

Published: 7/3/2022 9:07:12 PM
Modified: 7/3/2022 9:04:32 PM

Last Wednesday, I was awakened by my youngest daughter who told me that my friend, Hershel “Woody” Williams, had died at 98.

When 6,000 other Marines died taking Iwo Jima, Woody lived.  When the first several flamethrower operators died, Woody lived.  Though the life expectancy of a flamethrower operator is 30 seconds, when he used his first one, Woody lived.  He brought a wounded Marine back to the lines, picked up a second flamethrower, attacked again and Woody lived.  The Japanese were zinging bullets off of the flamethrower tanks on his back while he had his face in the sands of Iwo Jima, and Woody lived.  Though he brought back another wounded Marine, and used another flame thrower, Woody lived.  Though two of the four riflemen who protected him died as he fired the flames, Woody lived.  Though the flames showed the enemy where he was, Woody lived.

Not long ago he was the only living Marine who had received the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II.  Yesterday, he was the only living World War II Medal of Honor recipient.

He could have died, like 6,000 other Marines, on Iwo Jima.  He could have been just one of those brave heroes in the Marine cemetery on that sulfur island.  He could have been included in the sign there that read, "For your tomorrows we gave our todays," but Woody lived.

When his knees were knocking as he stood on the White House lawn and President Truman put the Medal of Honor around his neck, Woody lived. And oh, how he lived that wonderful day!

Twenty-two years ago Woody was serving as the chaplain of the society of living Medal of Honor recipients. He spent an hour of his life telling his story to my whole school in my history classroom.  He could have died in 1945, but God gave him more than 77 extra years.  He lived until June 29, 2022.  He was my friend. He is my hero.

Yours for a free America.

Dan Manka, formerly of Franklin County, lives in Fairmont, West Virginia. 


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