Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipient Will ‘Lie in State’ at US Capitol
Semper Fidelis to a hero of the Greatest Generation.
By: Sarah Cowgill | July 8, 2022 | 581 Words
Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps veteran and the last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient, passed away on June 30, 2022. The Medal of Honor is the highest award that can be given to US military soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, guardians, and coast guardsmen for acts of bravery. WWII lasted from 1939 to 1945, with the United States joining the conflict in 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s thought that about 16 million Americans fought in the war, but today only about 240,000 are still alive – most are in their 90s. Williams was 98 years old. His passing marks the end of a line of heroes from the Greatest Generation.
When Congress meets again, Williams will lie in state under the grand Rotunda of the United States Capitol – a final tribute given to distinguished officials and military officers. Lying in state is when someone’s body is placed in a government building for a time, so that members of the public can come and pay their respects. Since 1852, only 35 Americans have received this honor: 12 presidents, two vice presidents, some members of Congress, military heroes, and two US Supreme Court justices.
United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the solemn occasion: “When Woody lies in honor under the Capitol Dome, it will be with immense gratitude for his service that Congress will pay tribute to this legendary hero – and all of the patriots who fought for our nation in World War II.”
Humble Beginnings of a Hero
Williams grew up on a dairy farm in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, and recalled in an interview that the Great Depression and his humble roots made him the tireless Marine who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“I feel that our upbringing had some influence on our bravery because we were taught in the Depression years, if you didn’t have it, you had to make it. And the only way you could make it was to work at it. Our upbringing gave us the confidence that developed into bravery.”
Williams enlisted in the US Marines in May 1943 and reported for duty in the Pacific Theater three months later. He was trained in demolition. Williams also played a role in the battle to retake the island of Guam in 1944. The Department of Defense highlighted Williams’s bravery in a 2019 feature story:
“Williams had initially been one of several demolition sergeants, but by Feb. 23, 1945, he was the only one left. So, he bravely volunteered to go forward as the last flamethrower to try to quell the devastating machine-gun fire from the pillboxes [a type of mini fort building].”
President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Williams in 1945. The inscription reads: “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 vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective.”
Although Woody was honorably discharged in 1945, his service to country was far from over. He stayed in the Marine Corps Reserve and created the Woody Williams Foundation, which assists the families who have lost loved ones in service.
Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps motto meaning “always faithful” in Latin, fits Woody Williams perfectly.