Nov 14 2020
Brian Hauswirth | CNN
Editor’s Note: Congressman Blake Moore, a Republican, is the US Representative for Utah’s 1st congressional district. Congressman Marc Veasey, a Democrat, is the US Representative for Texas’ 33rd congressional district. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
One of the privileges of serving in the United States Congress is encountering extraordinary Americans from diverse backgrounds and regions, who, when presented with adversity, chose paths of courage and selflessness. Hershel “Woody” Williams was such a man.
Born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, Williams earned the Medal of Honor – our nation’s highest recognition of valor in combat – for his extraordinary actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, when he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire over several hours while singlehandedly destroying enemy pillboxes. Using his flamethrower, Williams cleared the way for American tanks and infantry, returning to the line only to resupply before setting off again into harm’s way. His actions occurred on the same day as the famous flag raising on top of Mount Suribachi, something he witnessed from 1,000 yards away.
Following his distinguished Marine career, Williams continued to serve others, founding his eponymous foundation, which has established over 120 permanent Gold Star families memorial monuments in communities across the United States and conducts other programming to benefit all Gold Star family members. When he passed last year, Williams laid in honor at the US Capitol as the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
He dedicated his life to uplifting and honoring our nation’s veterans — a cause that transcends politics and forges unlikely alliances. Take us as an example. We come from different backgrounds and political parties, and yet we are united by service and our respect for America’s heroes. It is in that spirit and befitting Williams’ memory that we recently introduced the Hershel “Woody” Williams National Medal of Honor Monument Location Act, which will designate a location for the monument along the National Mall in our nation’s capital.
The monument will stand as a testament to those who, like Williams, safeguard freedom and democracy. It will be a physical reminder of our nation’s shared values and provide an educational platform for future generations to learn about the dedication required to uphold our republic.
Getting to this point has not always been easy. While a permanent memorial has been discussed for years, it was not until 2021 when, following unanimous support in Congress, President Joe Biden signed into law a measure that we spearheaded authorizing the creation of a monument in Washington to honor those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. This new legislation takes the next step, permitting its placement near the Lincoln Memorial, a fitting tribute to President Abraham Lincoln, who established the award and embodied its principles. Already we have attracted the support of 24 cosponsors, representing communities as diverse as their geographical locations.
There is no doubt that America finds itself divided today. But just as President Abraham Lincoln worked to unify our nation, our hope is that this monument can remind all Americans that there is far more that unites us than divides us — and that we can rally behind a common purpose far greater than ourselves. Williams was adamant that he wore the medal not for himself but to commemorate all those he fought alongside: a brotherhood dedicated to the cause of liberty.
As we near the Fourth of July, those principles — and two of the countless individuals who fought for them — are top-of-mind. Lincoln and Williams were separated by time and space, but they would likely find common cause in the work to honor America’s military heroes and to uphold American ideals.
Their legacy lives on in the brave patriots who received the Medal of Honor. Of the 40 million service members since the Civil War, fewer than 4,000 have been awarded the medal, and only 65 are alive today. They are courageous and of good character, selfless and steadfast in their sense of duty — the very best our nation has to offer. Through their example, we will find the path toward a brighter future.
Lincoln understood that the task of perfecting the union is unending. It is only fitting that a monument honoring the Medal of Honor recipients will be visible from the Lincoln Memorial, serving as a tangible reminder of everything he and those who earned the medal stood for. Constructing this monument in its rightful location will inspire all Americans and allow our nation to experience — in Lincoln’s words — ”a new birth of freedom.”