SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity.
Those four words carry the weight of a thankful nation for those who are heralded as heroes while in military service to the United States. No more words are needed to describe the unselfish acts of valor performed by those who are bestowed with the highest of the nation’s military decorations — the Medal of Honor.
Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient and friend of Sheppard AFB, died June 29, 2022, at the age of 98. He was awarded the medal for his actions on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945.
The Marine Corps detachment here honored the legend Thursday by reading his MOH citation to Marines instructing and attending courses.
Williams, a retired Marine Corps chief warrant officer, visited Sheppard AFB on numerous occasions while in North Texas to attend the Iwo Jima Survivors Reunion each February, an event started by area Iwo Jima veteran Cy Young in 1991. His sense of service never faded over time as he took the opportunity to talk with young Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers here, as well as students at Sheppard Elementary School.
In 2015, during a visit at Sheppard Elementary, Williams shared his miraculous feat some 70 years earlier with students. A corporal at the time of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Williams repeatedly confronted a fortified enemy position for four hours armed with a flamethrower, returning to his own lines to get more demolition charges and serviced flamethrowers.
Williams, who spent much of his life after service helping others cope with the aftermath of combat, provided sage advice to the youngsters.
"You never know when a miracle may come our way," Williams said. "I hope everyone in this room, in their time, will find their miracle."
In a news release by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Williams’ thoughts on the medal were captured in a quote: “The Medal represents what the country has always stood for. Sacrifice. The day I was born … I was handed a gem that is absolutely impossible to buy. That was my freedom. Can’t pay for it. There is not enough money in the world. So this Medal, to me, stands for sacrifice and service.”
Williams will be laid to rest in West Virginia on July 3, 2022, the day before the nation celebrates the freedom he so very much loved and for which he fought.