Hero:  Hershel “Woody” Williams

By | March 21, 2021

[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 jobI 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.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

25 thoughts on “Hero:  Hershel “Woody” Williams

    1. Joe Omerrod

      … and we should all be paying very close attention to what he did, what he is today, and why he is seen as a true hero.

  1. Shawn C. Stolarz

    WOW, is all I’ve got to say. Speaking with an Iwo Jima USMC veteran. You are more than lucky. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for sharing Woody Williams story with us.

    1. Dead Pool Guy

      Yes, great man and true American hero. I am not too surprised that when you asked him what he was thinking that 1) he really couldn’t remember but also that 2) he was operating on instinct. That is what good training is about because if you have to think in this kind of terrible environment, your brain is likely to blank out and you will freeze.

  2. Patriot Phil

    A great American patriot. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  3. Nick Lighthouse

    Gen. Satterfield, yes, you should be honored. Like others have noted, it would be truly an honor to have even a single minute to talk with this hero. What we all could learn is something never to be forgotten. That is why I always say that the place to start helping our young people develop a sense of duty is in the classroom. I hear that Mr. Williams has done exactly that.

    1. Anthony "Tony" Benson

      I recommend that we get outside and find these heroes, not many left. Find them and talk with them. Get inside you what they did and how they thought and what made them who they are. Time is ticking. Once long ago, all our senior politicians were also military veterans. No longer. Now we have fake veteran heroes like Dickhead Blumenthal from Connecticut.
      Richard Blumenthal Claimed Vietnam Service But Never Went; Calls NYT Report ‘Outrageous Distortion’

      1. Kenny Foster

        Richard Blumenthal represents more of what we see today in our “leaders”. He lied about his service in Vietnam (claimed he was there but was not). Just like Joe Biden who claimed he was in the top of his law class and had multiple college degrees (he was not). Lying is an epidemic with men like Blumenthal and Biden. What next?

  4. Willie Shrumburger

    As World War II began, Woody came into direct contact with families in his own community when he delivered Western Union telegrams informing the Gold Star families of the death of their loved one.

      1. Mr. T.J. Asper

        Excellent, thanks Jerome and Eric. I plan to use this information, along with what Gen. Satterfield wrote as part of my High School history class next month before the graduation. Now that the coronavirus pandemic is waning, I will have more personal interaction time to teach my students about how to be a reliable man or woman.

    1. Silly Man

      I’m in awe (truly) of a man like Mr. Williams. May he live long and prosperous. He and his family deserve every honor that can be bestowed upon an individual. Like Noah, John the Baptist, and Abraham of the Bible, these were real heroes and so is Mr. Williams.

  5. Army Captain

    Wow, to talk to a real WW2 hero. You should be honored. Yes, thee are only two WW2 MOH recipients alive today. I read several articles on “Woody” Williams and what he did that day to destroy the Japanese fortifications was heroic in every sense of the word.

    1. Doug Smith

      Wish I had been there. I would have asked what got him to volunteer for WWII and why he waited until he was 19 years old.

      1. Tom Bushmaster

        He didn’t meet the height requirement for the US Marines when he was 18 but the war forced the Marines to lower the height requirement and when he turned 19, he joined.

    2. Melissa Jackson

      Yes, a true hero. We don’t see them any more. I saw a cartoon by Michael P. Ramirez that compared Woody’s Greatest Generation (with a drawing of men going to shore on D-Day) with the Latest Generation (saying Mommy, he’s looking at me, trigger warning). Says it all.

      1. Gil Johnson

        Yes, you can find it in this search: https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=AwrC3L53PVdgBkUAZzcPxQt.;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=michael+p.+ramirez+lastest+generation&type=cr_ds_aug20_wk31_2020&param1=96e14aee-6f2c-44b3-a5f2-f984d0f9027c_2020-08-01_cr&param2=ds_direct_aug20&param3=ngc_22.20.5.39_wk31_2020&param4=1000&geo=us&ver=

    3. Jackson D.

      Thanks for the confirmation from the perspective of another military man.

    4. Greg Heyman

      Thank you for your service, Army Captain. I’ve said it before but I do mean it. And thanks to Gen. Satterfield for such great stories.


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