Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams Speaks at Veterans’ Tribute Assembly
Hershel Woodrow Williams was born on 2 October 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He worked as a taxi and truck driver before enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve from that state in May 1943. During the summer and fall he received recruit training at San Diego, California, and advanced training in the use of flame throwers and combat demolitions. Williams served overseas on New Caledonia and Guadalcanal with the THIRD Marine Division and, as a member of the Twenty-first Marines, took part in combat action on Guam.
With the same unit, Corporal Williams was a Demolition Sergeant during the Battle for Iwo Jima. On 23 February 1945, when American tanks were held up by Japanese guns, minefields and rough island terrain, he advanced alone and, in a four hour effort while under terrific fire, utilized demolition charges and flame throwers to annihilate many enemy positions, thus enabling his company to reach its objective. For his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life,” he was awarded the Medal of Honor. As the desperate struggle continued, on 6 March he was wounded in action. On 5 October 1945, President Harry S. Truman presented Corporal Williams with the Medal of Honor during ceremonies at the White House.
Discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1945, Williams reenlisted in the inactive Marine Corps Reserve in March 1948, serving until August 1949. He again joined the Marine Corps Reserve in October 1954, serving with units based in West Virginia and attaining the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 before retiring in 1969. During the 1960s he was also a civilian counselor to the armed forces, and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal by the Veterans’ Administration for this work.
The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE
for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Demolition Sergeant serving with the First Battalion, Twenty-First Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Island, 23 February 1945. Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines and black, volcanic sands, Corporal Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. On one occasion he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flame thrower through the air vent, kill the occupants and silence 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. His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided in enabling his company to reach its' [sic] objective. Corporal Williams' aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
/S/ HARRY S. TRUMAN