Yesterday U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called Hershel “Woody” Williams to tell him that the Navy has decided to honor him by naming the Navy’s newest expeditionary sea base after him.
Williams was born on October 2, 1923 to a dairy farming family in West Virginia. During WWII he tried to sign up for the military but was turned away for being too short. It was not until May 26, 1943 that he successfully enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves. After training at MCRD he was assigned to a tank battalion on August 21, 1943. Only a month later he was transferred to the training center’s infantry battalion where he was trained as a demolition man and in the use of flamethrowers.
In January of 1944 he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal. In July of that year he saw his first major combat action against the Japanese in Guam.
William’s next round of combat was where he earned the Medal of Honor by displaying an extreme amount of bravery. On February 23, 1945 on the island of Iwo Jima, the “undersized” Marine equipped with his 70lb flame thrower torched more enemy combatants than any U.S. Army tank could. The U.S. Army tanks were halted by concrete pill boxes, sand, and thousands of buried mines. There was no way to clear a path through enemy fire for the Marine Infantryman.
With only the cover of four rifleman, Williams endured over four hours of direct small arms fire in attempts to clear a path. If it was not for William’s bravery in clearing a way for his Marines, the events of that day on Iwo Jima have been a lot different. Firsthand accounts report seeing Williams personally torch numerous Japanese pill boxes and infantry soldiers charging him with bayonets.
Williams bravery and combat experience can be clearly seen in his eyes today, commonly referred to as the “thousand yard stare.”
On October 5, 1945 President Harry S. Truman awarded Hershel Williams the Congressional Medal of Honor at the White House.
Senator Joe Machin (D, WV), led the charge to nominate Williams, who is now 92 years old, to have is name memorialized within the Navy.
Sen. Machin said in a news release, “Naming a ship after Woody is a lifelong tribute to Woody’s brave actions and his dedication to public service. “ He continued to say, “Woody embodies the service and sacrifice our great state has given to our nation and this honors not only his legacy but the legacy of West Virginia veterans and their families.”
According to the West Virginia Gazette, Secretary Mabus is required to give Congress a 30-day notice before a date for the dedication ceremony can be scheduled.
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