May 31 2021
United States Marine Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Medal of Honor recipient and the last surviving member of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising photo, rides on a float during the Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11, 2013 in New York City.
ACROSS AMERICA — Hershel “Woody” Williams is the only American alive to have received the Congressional Medal of Honor for an act of heroism during World War II. Now, at 97 years old, he’s still active in making sure the veterans who weren’t able to make it home from World War II, or any American war since, are remembered.
More than 6,000 Marines who landed at Iwo Jima in 1945 didn’t survive. Williams was among those who did, and was awarded the Medal of Honor by then-President Harry Truman when the West Virginia native returned home to the United States later that year.
As a flamethrower in the 3rd Marine Division, Williams landed as part of the Iwo Jima invasion and was asked to “knock out” one of the Japanese pillboxes on the island, according to a video on his military career from the National World War II museum. Williams described how he used six flamethrowers to take out seven Japanese pillboxes and kill 21 enemy soldiers on his own.
“The beach was just full of everything you can think of — trucks and tanks just blown up,” Williams said in a CBS interview that aired Sunday morning.
Williams’ service to the United States didn’t end with his Medal of Honor recognition. It continued for decades, and still does now in the Woody Williams Foundation named after the last surviving World War II medal of honor recipient.
The foundation helps establish “permanent Gold Star families memorial monuments in communities throughout the United States,” according to its website. It also awards scholarships to Gold Star children, helping families who have lost immediate family members who died while serving in the U.S. military during a time of conflict.
“I felt that I owed back more than I could ever possibly give,” Williams told CBS, also recalling how he was first rejected by the Marines because he was considered too short.
Williams has personally been involved in a number of Gold Star monument events, including one earlier this month in Corsicana, Texas.
The foundation had been a part of establishing 83 Gold Star monuments across the country, and have 76 more in the works, according to the foundation website.