Hershel 'Woody' Williams
Hershel 'Woody' Williams

Veterans Day – 11-11-2015 – is just a few days away. Like any day (too few as they are) set aside to honor America’s finest, this is a very special day indeed.

Originally observed as Armistice Day in recognition of the end of fighting in World War I at 11 a.m. November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day by an act of Congress and signed by President (and General) Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954.

The first reported event using the term Veterans Day occurred in Birmingham, Ala. in 1947, when World War II veteran Raymond Weeks organized “National Veterans Day” to honor all veterans.

Many of us are fortunate to know – or have known – veterans from that distinctive World War II generation. Sadly, those World War II veterans still on the “active duty” roster are decreasing each and every day.

Consider: More than 16 million men and women served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. More than 400,000 died in battle and noncombat deaths. More than 600,000 were wounded. Of the approximately 2 million living American World War II veterans in 2011, almost 900 die each day. The average age of those surviving is 92.

One of those survivors from World War II is Hershel “Woody” Williams. Mr. Williams is 92. He was born on Oct. 2, 1923 in Fairmont, W.Va.

Mr. Williams is a retired United States Marine who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. He is the last surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor from that battle. And he was once rejected for military service for being too short.

From Wikipedia.com, we read: “In January 1944, (Williams) joined the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal, attached to the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, first to Company C and then to Headquarters Company. During July and August 1944, he participated in action against the Japanese at Guam, and in October he rejoined Company C.

“His next campaign was at Iwo Jima where he distinguished himself with actions ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ – for which he would be awarded the Medal of Honor. Landing on Feb. 21, 1945, Corporal Williams distinguished himself two days later when American tanks, trying to open a lane for infantry, encountered a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes,
buried mines, and black volcanic sands. Cpl. Williams went forward alone with his 70-pound flame-thrower to attempt the reduction of devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered by only four riflemen, he fought for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame-throwers.

“He returned to the front, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. At one point, a wisp of smoke alerted him to the air vent of a Japanese bunker, and he approached close enough to put the nozzle of his flamethrower through the hole, killing the occupants. On another occasion, he was charged by enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and he killed them with a burst of flame
from his weapon.

“These actions occurred on the same day as the famous raising of the U.S. flag on the island’s Mount Suribachi, although Williams was not able to witness the event. He fought through the remainder of the five-week-long battle and was wounded on March 6, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. In September 1945, he returned to the United States, and on October 1 he joined Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman on Oct. 5, 1945 at the White House.”

Today, World War II hero Hershel “Woody” Williams has one more mission: Honoring families of fallen servicemen and women by establishing a Gold Star Memorial in every state.

Just last week, Mr. Williams spoke to students and staff at Central Crossing High School in Grove City, Ohio. According to a report in The Columbus Dispatch, “By Memorial Day 2016, Grove City expects to have the second Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Ohio, with the other in Fairfield in southwestern Ohio.”

As reported by Shannon Gilchrist in the Dispatch (see http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/10/29/memorial-planned-to-honor-families-of-fallen.html)

“{Mr. Williams} also talked about character: ‘Certain circumstances dictate our lives. I believe that firmly. ... It isn’t the fact that the circumstance happens; it’s what you do with it.’”

For more information about Mr. Williams’ initiative, go to http://www.hwwmohfoundation.org/.

* * *

Veterans Day reminder

‘It is the Veteran’

It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the Veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Veteran, who salutes the Flag,

It is the Veteran, who serves under the Flag,

To be buried by the flag,

So the protester can burn the flag.


Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.