From tossing the coin at the Super Bowl two weeks ago to visiting Tiger territory today, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams spreads a message of leadership around the country. He took time out of his busy schedule to inspire ninth grade students at the NGC on Feb. 14.
Students hung on every word as Williams spoke to them about leadership, service, purpose and honor. In his nine decades of life, he has learned a lot about sacrifice and the value of a firm foundation.
“The definition of a leader is taking care of your people. I’m here today because of others’ sacrifices,” Williams said. “Size doesn’t have anything to do with courage. It’s your heart that determines if you’re courageous or not.”
When asked by a student to give advice to the younger generation, Williams said, “Do something for your country. You may not be called to the military, but as citizens of this great country, we all have the responsibility to serve in some way.”
A long line of Frenship students waited after the assembly to shake hands with and thank the hero for his service.
More about Corporal Williams
On Feb. 23, 1945, Corporal Williams (1st Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division) volunteered to reduce devastating machine gun fire from reinforced pillboxes on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima. Armed with a 70 pound flamethrower and covered by four Marine riflemen, Cpl. Williams fought for more than four hours neutralizing one fortified machine gun emplacement after another.
He repeatedly returned to his own lines to retrieve serviced flamethrowers and satchel charges to continue assaulting the network of gun emplacements. Cpl. Williams faced withering small arms fire and during his assault, two of the riflemen providing cover were killed in action. Cpl. Williams, however, was spurred forward, witnessing the flag-raising atop Mt. Surabachi that day on Iwo Jima.
On Oct. 1, 1945, Cpl. Williams was ordered to Washington D.C., where he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for his actions at Iwo Jima.
“When I picked these four Marines to support me, I had no idea who they were. Two of those were killed that day, protecting me,” explained Cpl. Williams. “I have said over and over, many many times, that this medal I wear, I wear in their honor, not mine. So I’ve considered myself as a caretaker of the medal, not the owner of the medal.”
Cpl. Williams retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 after serving 17 years in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and USMC Reserves. He went on to serve the Department of Veterans Affairs for 33 years. He has twice been named a Distinguished West Virginian by the West Virginia State Legislature and has received numerous state and local honors.
In 2017, the Secretary of the Navy named Expeditionary Sea Base Ship 4 the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams, joining Astronaut John Glenn and USMC Lt. Gen Lewis “Chesty” Puller, the namesakes of the other ships in its class. In his hometown of Fairmont, WV, the $32 million Hershel “Woody” Williams Armed Forces Reserve Center is the only National Guard facility in the country named after a U.S. Marine.
Williams, now 94, travels the United States speaking on behalf of the Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation. His foundation speaks on behalf of Gold Star Families, works to raise funds to erect Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in communities across all 50 states, offers scholarships to Gold Star Children, and educates communities about Gold Star Families and the sacrifice they have endured.