Area mourns passing of Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams of West Virginia

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Jun. 30—PRINCETON — Flags across West Virginia will soon be gong to half staff after the public was informed Wednesday that West Virginia native Hershel "Woody" Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient in the nation, had passed away.

Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement about Williams early Wednesday morning. Williams was 98 years old.

"I ask all West Virginians to join Cathy and I in praying for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones, and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States of America," Justice said. "Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody's contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery, and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation."

Justice has offered for Williams to lie in state in the Capitol, and has also offered a State funeral to be held for Williams at the state Capitol.

The governor then announced that he would be signing a proclamation to lower all United States and West Virginia flags to half-staff statewide to honor. The governor said this proclamation would be issued once a funeral date was announced.

Woody Williams was born on a dairy farm in 1923 at Quiet Dell, W.Va. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division. During the battle, Williams displayed "valiant devotion to duty" and service above self as he "enabled his company to reach its objective." Williams' actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism were recognized on Oct. 5, 1945, when he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman at the White House.

Mercer County Commissioner Bill Archer remembered encountering Williams for the first time when he came to Princeton for a Marine Corps League meeting.

"I did the introduction there at the first of it. At the end of my presentation, I took off and started to leave and Woody stopped me, physically stopped me, from going out the door," Archer said. "He told 'You understand the importance of a Gold Star Family Monument?' I said yes, I do. He said that 'Mercer County needs you to do this' and said in no uncertain terms that's what he wanted me to do."

Williams showed Archer how to start the process, and in October 2020, a Gold Star Family Monument was dedicated outside the Memorial Building in Princeton. Recently, Williams had been "accelerating" the dedication of new monuments while he could still do it.

"He was just a remarkable person," Archer said. "He really shared freely his experiences in the war and in peace. and he worked with the veterans who were going through that adverse challenge of trying to get back to civilian life. He worked very closely with them,and it's all been a mission to him to try to help those of us who are civilians to demonstrate our support for those who made the supreme sacrifice, also to remember all those who served no matter what their duty station was or what the requirements of their service was."

To date, Woody Williams and his foundation are responsible for establishing 102 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 73 additional monuments underway in 50 states and one U.S. Territory. The first was dedicated in the Donnel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute. The monument at the West Virginia State Capitol is the largest.

Another local person who worked with Williams is retired Marine Master Sgt. Dayton C. Meadows III, who has Mountain Memories Retreat near Flat Top. The site is known for the 20- by 30-foot American flag that flies along Interstate 77. Williams was present when the flag was dedicated in August 2016.

Meadows said that besides receiving the Medal of Honor, Williams worked with the Veterans Administration as a counselor. A VA medical center in Huntington is named after him, and a Navy ship, the U.S.S. Hershel "Woody" Williams bears his name. Meadows said that he admired Williams for his patriotism and considered him an inspiration.

"The guy was amazing," Meadows said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. released a statement about the passing of Woody Williams.

"Woody Williams was the embodiment of a true American hero. Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear," Manchin said. "Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many across our great state and entire nation. We join all West Virginians in praying for Woody's family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time."

"Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time. We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation," Manchin said. "In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar — his most recent Veterans project — to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built."

"Woody was a tireless advocate for all veterans and their family members. Over the years, my staff and I worked with Woody on too many issues to name, including for Gold Star Families, improving our veterans hospitals and healthcare, and recognizing the contributions of our service members," Manchin stated. "I will miss riding with Woody during our annual motorcycle ride for Gold Star Families; he was always my wingman. One of my most cherished memories with Woody is traveling to California and Virginia with him when his ship was commissioned and christened. During those moments, Woody showed the world the true nature of being a West Virginian with his humility and grace. As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest."

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., also issued a statement after learning that Williams had passed away.

"West Virginia lost one of its proudest sons today, and the United States lost a true hero," Capito said. "I am so sad to learn that my friend Hershel 'Woody' Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, passed away at the age of 98."

"Woody embodied exactly what the Greatest Generation was all about: Service to country above self. Not only are his acts of valor on the battlefield well-documented, but the lives he touched in the years since serving had a lasting impact on every person he met," Capito stated. "He inspired many to love their country, enter the service, and reminded everyone why our 'nation under God' is the greatest on earth. One of the best West Virginians we've ever known is now gone, but his lifetime of service and incredible legacy will be with us forever."

U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., joined her colleagues in honoring Williams.

"Today, we have lost an American hero. Woody Williams embodied the 'Greatest Generation.' The Americans who volunteered to fight for their country. As a Medal of Honor recipient, Woody never quit helping his country and those who served," Miller said.

"Woody is a hero in every sense of the word. I am grateful to have called him my friend. Woody will be sorely missed, but his legacy of service, dedication, and patriotism will live on through the countless lives he's touched," Miller stated. "May God be with his family during this time, and may we never forget the unyielding commitment Woody had for the United States of America. God bless Woody Williams."

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com