Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams is the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor from the Battle of Iwo Jima, site of the iconic “Flag Raising” photograph.
Born in Fairmont, West Virginia, in 1923, Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1943, at the height of World War II. On February 23, 1945, Corporal Williams single-handedly assaulted a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes and buried mines with a 70-pound flamethrower. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought for four hours under withering enemy fire, repeatedly returning to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, and then struggling back to continue his attack on the hostile emplacements. He was presented the Medal of Honor for these actions by President Harry S. Truman on October 5, 1945.
Following 17 years in the Marines, Williams continued to serve his fellow veterans, receiving the Vietnam Service Medal in 1967 for his work as a civilian counselor to the armed forces. He is the chaplain emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as demolition sergeant serving with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945. Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands, Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machinegun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out 1 position after another. On 1 occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon. His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective. Cpl. Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.