[March 21, 2021] It’s unusual to have the honor to speak with a true hero. Yesterday, I was on the Joe Griffies’ Welcome Home Show. The show had a fantastic lineup of real heroes. One of the radio show guests was Herschel “Woody” Williams, one of only two living Medal of Honor medal winners of World War II.
One of Woody’s first jobs was delivering U.S. government telegrams to family members of those wounded or killed in action during WWII. The job made a great impression on him. With his own eyes, he saw family members fall to the ground after learning about a loved one who had been killed in combat. Eventually, Woody was fired from his delivery job because his boss required a signature from those receiving those telegrams. He couldn’t do it.
Williams was initially drawn to the U.S. Marines by their dress blue uniforms that he had seen several men in his community wear. He disliked the Army’s brown wool uniform that he considered “… the ugliest thing in town … I decided I did not want to be in that thing. I want to be in those dress blues.” Aside from the appearance of the uniform, Woody knew nothing of the Marines.
Woody was at the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he distinguished himself with actions “above and beyond the call of duty” – for which he would be awarded the Medal of Honor. On February 21, 1945, he landed on the beach with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines. Williams, by then a corporal. Woody distinguished himself two days later when American tanks, trying to open a lane for infantry, encountered a reinforced concrete pillbox network.
Pinned down by machine-gun fire, his company commander asked one of his men to attach a high explosive charge to a pole. With the support of Woody and his flamethrower and several Marine riflemen, he shoved the improvised weapon into an opening in the enemy’s pillbox, destroying it. He then returned five times to his company area, refueled his weapon, and moved forward to destroy the remaining pillboxes.
I asked Woody what he was thinking as he returned time and again to refuel his flamethrower to destroy Japanese army fighting positions. “I wasn’t thinking; I was just doing my job. I had no memory of what I was thinking; instinct took over.” Woody is truly a humble man. I find it refreshing to speak man-to-man with someone who did something so heroic that his actions on the battlefield still hold people in awe.
Herschel “Woody” Williams is undeniably a true American hero.