U.S. Marine Corps veteran Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died on 29 June. He was 98.
A native of West Virginia, Williams garnered the nation’s highest military honor “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,” according to his Medal of Honor citation.
Dodging his way through a maze of pillboxes and landmines, Williams “daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions . . . . On one 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.”
In a statement released 29 June, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III noted, “Today, America lost not just a valiant Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient, but an important link to our nation’s fight against tyranny in the Second World War. Woody Williams gave to his nation on the battlefield and after, establishing a foundation to honor and recognize Gold Star families . . . . I hope every American will pause to reflect on his service and that of an entire generation that sacrificed so much to defend the cause of freedom and democracy.”