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Hershel Williams, a Hero within the Battle for Iwo Jima, Dies at 98


Hershel Williams, the final survivor among the many 472 servicemen who have been awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary bravery in World Conflict II and the oldest dwelling recipient of the medal, died on Wednesday in Huntington, W.Va. He was 98.

His demise, on the Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Heart, was introduced by the Woody Williams Basis.

Corporal Williams was mendacity inclined on the black volcanic ash of Iwo Jima the morning of Feb. 23, 1945, when he was startled by the sounds of cheering. “All of the sudden, the Marines round me beginning leaping up and down, firing their weapons within the air,” he advised the Marine Corps Historical past Division lengthy afterward. “My head was buried within the sand. Then I appeared up and noticed Previous Glory on high of Mount Suribachi.”

The elevating of a big American flag by six Marines atop Iwo Jima, photographed by Joe Rosenthal of The Related Press, turned an everlasting picture of the American preventing man in World Conflict II.

However the battle for that Japanese-administered island and its airfields some 750 miles south of Tokyo, wanted by the Military Air Forces to help long-range bombing missions over Japan, was solely in its fifth day when the flag went up. The battle was simply starting for Corporal Williams, a 21-year-old Marine from West Virginia.

That afternoon, he worn out seven Japanese pillboxes with flamethrowers, opening a niche that enabled Marine tanks and personnel carriers to interrupt via the enemy defenses. He scurried from one pillbox to a different, miraculously untouched by the extraordinary Japanese machine-gun fireplace that bounced off his gear — sounding, as he advised it, like a jackhammer.

Throughout his four-hour foray, by which he acquired supporting fireplace from a number of fellow Marines, two of whom have been killed throughout the mission, Corporal Williams returned 5 occasions to his headquarters to get new flamethrowers when his provide of diesel gasoline and high-octane gasoline ran out.

He acquired the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, from President Harry S. Truman in October 1945. The quotation said that his “unyielding willpower and extraordinary heroism within the face of ruthless enemy resistance have been instantly instrumental in neutralizing one of the crucial fanatically defended Japanese sturdy factors encountered by his regiment.”

A complete of 27 Marines and Navy servicemen acquired the medal, 14 of them posthumously, for heroism within the 36-day battle for Iwo Jima.

Many years after World Conflict II, the Medal of Honor was awarded to greater than two dozen African American and Asian American servicemen who had engaged in extraordinary fight feats within the conflict however who had been handed over for it, presumably a results of racial prejudice, bringing the overall of recipients to 472.

The Medal of Honor was additionally accorded to an unidentified serviceman killed in World Conflict II and one other who died within the Korean Conflict when their stays have been reburied on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Nationwide Cemetery in 1958, becoming a member of an unidentified World Conflict I serviceman.

Hershel Woodrow Williams, often called Woody, was born on Oct. 2, 1923, within the tiny neighborhood of Quiet Dell, W.Va., the youngest of 11 youngsters of Lloyd and Lurenna Williams. Six of his brothers and sisters had died throughout the 1918-19 flu pandemic.

He helped his dad and mom run their small dairy farm; after his father died of a coronary heart assault when Woody was 11, his brother Lloyd Jr. took over the farm with assist from the opposite youngsters. He later give up highschool to affix the Melancholy-era Civilian Conservation Corps, engaged on initiatives in Montana.

As a youth, he had been impressed by the dress-blue uniforms and the bearing of some hometown boys on furloughs from the Marine Corps. He enlisted within the Marines in Might 1943. He was solely 5 toes 6 inches tall, the service’s minimal top requirement, and weighed simply 135 kilos, however he was effectively muscled from his farm work.

Corporal Williams noticed fight on Guam a 12 months later, then arrived on Iwo Jima with the twenty first Marines of the Third Marine Division. When Marine armored autos turned slowed down of their try to penetrate the community of Japanese protection positions, his commander requested him if he may do one thing to help them.

Thus started his one-man flame-throwing foray.

He advised Larry Smith for the oral historical past “Iwo Jima” (2008) that “you needed to get inside 20 yards of a pillbox, with machine-gun bullets kicking up.”

“One time, the boys in a single pillbox got here out,” he recalled. “As they got here working towards me with their rifles and bayonets poised, they ran straight into the fireplace from my flamethrower. As if in gradual movement, they only fell down.”

Corporal Williams incurred a leg wound from shrapnel 11 days later, however he remained on Iwo Jima till the battle ended.

Iwo Jima was the midway level for the Military Air Forces’ B-29 bombers that set out from their bases on the Marianas Islands to bomb Japan. The seize of its airstrips gave america a base for fighter planes escorting the bombers and supplied emergency touchdown websites for crippled B-29s coming back from their missions.

However the seizing of that eight-square-mile spit of volcanic particles was exceedingly pricey. A couple of-third of the 70,000 Marines who invaded Iwo Jima, from the Third, Fourth and Fifth Marine Divisions, have been killed or wounded. All however a thousand or so of the 20,000 Japanese defenders died within the battle.

Mr. Williams left energetic army service in November 1945 and returned to his native West Virginia, the place he was a counselor for the Veterans Administration. He remained within the Marine Corps as a reservist and retired as a chief warrant officer in 1969. His basis raises cash to supply scholarships for youngsters who had misplaced a mum or dad in conflict.

In March 2020, he attended a ceremony in Norfolk, Va., for the commissioning of the warship Hershel “Woody” Williams.

Mr. Williams’s spouse, Ruby (Meredith) Williams, whom he married in 1945, died in 2007. That they had two daughters, Travie Jane and Tracie Jean, in addition to grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Full data on survivors was not instantly out there.

In February 2011, Mr. Williams spoke aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima at Norfolk on the 66th anniversary of the battle. “I declare to be solely the caretaker of the medal,” he stated. “There have been 27 medals awarded, however there have been numerous others who did as a lot, if no more.”

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