World War II Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams was born October 2, 1923, in Fairmont. At 17, he dropped out of high school and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. After his 18th birthday, Williams sought to enlist in the Marine Corps but was rejected because at five feet six inches tall, he did not meet the height requirement. In May 1943, Williams enlisted after the height requirement was changed. Assigned to the Third Marine Division, he first experienced combat against the Japanese at Guam in the summer of 1944.
In February and March 1945, Williams distinguished himself during the Battle of Iwo Jima. On February 23, Williams neutralized seven concrete pillboxes from which came devastating machine gun fire. Aided by four riflemen who provided cover, Williams prepared demolition charges and destroyed one position after the other in a four-hour period. This act of heroism earned Williams the Medal of Honor. On March 6, he suffered a shrapnel wound, which earned him a Purple Heart. On October 5, 1945, President Truman awarded Williams the Medal of Honor in a ceremony at the White House.
After his discharge in November 1945, Williams served in the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring in 1969. From 1946 to 1979, he was a counselor with the Veterans Administration, working with veterans from West Virginia. In October 1945, he married Ruby Meredith, and they had two daughters. Williams was a lay speaker for the Methodist Church and served as the national chaplain of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. For 30 years, he ran a boarding and training barn for horses in Cabell County. He also remained active, talking to church, youth, and veterans’ groups.
This Article was written by Henry Franklin Tribe
Last Revised on December 15, 2010
Larry Earl Smith. Iwo Jima: World War II: Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
Hershel "Woody" Williams. "Oral history interview," National World War II Museum. November 16, 2006.
Hershel "Woody" Williams. "Oral history interview," Pritzker Military Library. January 24, 2008.