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In memory of Hershel "Woody" Williams, who won the Medal of Honor of World War II

Medal of Honor-winning Hershel "Woody" Williams

"Hero" is probably a word that is used too often these days. Last year, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin spoke with Hershel "Woody" Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor winner in World War II. Williams died Wednesday at the age of 98Indeed, he is a true American hero. [This story was originally broadcast on May 30, 2021]

Hershel "Woody" Williams is literally unique. At the age of 97, he is the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from World War II. But that's the way he's lived all those years, as it really makes him stand out.

"I felt I was renting more than I could ever give," he told Martin.

He grew up on a farm in West Virginia during the Great Depression. "11 people were born in my family," he said. "Only five of us survived to adulthood."

After Pearl Harbor, he tried to join the Marine Corps, Rejected because it was too short. Height restrictions were relaxed when the Marines began to cause horrific casualties across the Pacific to fight the Japanese — and he ended up in the Marines.

Martin asked, "What was the taste of your first battle?"

"Very scary," he replied.

Marine Corporal Hershel "Woody" Williams. CBS News

In February 1945, a large invading fleet gathered from Japan's Iwo Jima. "We didn't know they had 22,000 Japanese on the island. We didn't know they dug miles in the volcano," Williams said. rice field.

The Battle of Iwo Jima
Battle of Iwo Jima Battle of the Island

The Japanese set fire until the Marines landed, after which they turned the beach into a slaughterhouse. "The beach was full of everything you could think of. — Trucks and tanks were just blown up."

More than 6,000 Marines will die. "Like Codewood, it's just piled up," Williams said.

Finally, the Marines reached the summit of Mt. Suribachi to raise the most famous flag in American history.

Martin asked, "Did you know that the flag was raised?"

"No, I didn't," Williams said. "I think I had my head buried in the sand."

The flag was up, but the battle of Iwo Jima wasn't over yet. Pillbox line, reinforced concrete pillbox.

A Japanese machine gun in the pillbox shot down an advancing Marine until the Williams commander turned to him. "What were you going to do with the flamethrower?" Martin asked.

"Put a flame in the pillbox, and you can annihilate everyone in that pillbox."

Williams has four rifles. Crawled towards the first pillbox with a Japanese bullet bouncing off a flamethrower, covering the shooting from Mann.

"When I look up at the top of this pillbox, I see a little blue smoke coming out of it," Williams said. "So I crawled up. I got up on the pillbox. It was a pipe about the same size as the nozzle of the flamethrower, so I stabbed it and let it go. That was my first pillbox.

Williams allegedly took out seven pillboxes in four hours.

It was February 1945. When Japan surrendered in September of that year, Williams was at the time of Guam's murder when he suddenly received a subpoena. And I said, "For what." "

" It can't be good news, "Martin said.

"That's what I thought," Williams laughed. "I'm scared to death, but I'm following orders, because you know, I go into the tent and walk to his desk," he said, "you're back in Washington. Have been ordered. " I had never heard of the Medal of Honor and did not know that such a thing existed. "

A boy from the quiet Dell of West Virginia noticed that he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Truman at the White House. He is shaking hands and standing now. Talks about scary moments. I was a shipwreck. It really was. "

Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman Awarded by Navy Captain Herschel "Woody" Williams. CBS News

He became nervous, especially when Corporal Warren Bourneholtz and his senior soldiers learned of it. There was no responsibility associated with the medal. Two riflemen, First Class Charles Fisher, who provided dodge during the four hours of burning hell, were killed.

"Knowing that changed the whole concept of medals. I said," This medal is not mine. It is theirs. "So I honor them. Wear it with, not mine. They sacrificed their lives to make it possible.

Williams learned at an early age what that sacrifice meant for his family. Prior to joining his Marines, he sent a Western Union telegram informing his mother that his son had been killed. "Well, she just fell when I handed her her envelope," he recalled. "As an 18-year-old boy, I didn't know what to do. I didn't do anything. I left. As you know, I didn't know what to do."

"You did a pretty good job to make up for it," Martin said. A lasting impression on my heart. It gave us our freedom and made us understand what it takes to know who we are, "he said. A family of Gold Stars who designed the monument in honor of them. "We are in all 50 states," he said.

"I need a lot of travel on your side."

"We are trying to take part in all our dedication and all the breakthroughs."

Before the COVID hit, something in these 90 was on the road for over 200 days a year.

Martin asked. You drive yourself that way. Everyone will understand if you were begging at your age.

"This is my way to keep our Gold Star family unforgettable," Williams replied.

This April, Charles Coolridge, the only person to be awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II, died.

Martin says, "Now you are the last person to stand."


"It increases your sense of responsibility."

"Yes, that's right."

"Have you ever wondered why you could live so long?"

"Someone's life a little better, a little more It may be meaningful, "he replied.

"Woody" Williams, to put it another way, has lived the most meaningful life possible.

More information:

A story created by Mary Walsh. Editor: Joseph Flandino. 

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