Woody Williams celebrates 90th, launches foundation to support Gold Star families
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation was launched Tuesday evening during a birthday celebration held for the veteran, who will celebrate his 90th Wednesday.
Williams, a retired U.S. Marine who grew up in Marion County, is the only living Medal of Honor recipient in West Virginia. He received the honor -- which is the country's highest military decoration -- in 1945 for risking his life during the battle of Iwo Jima.
"As much as we are in awe of your gallantry in Iwo Jima that caused you to earn the Medal of Honor, we are even more in awe of what you've done with your life afterwards and the things you've stood for," state Adj. Gen. James Hoyer told Williams. "You won the medal as a young man. You could've taken a knee. You could've lived on that laurel for a long time. But instead, you set out on a course that took you even beyond the significance of what you did in Iwo Jima."
Williams has spent much of his older years advocating for veterans across the state and helping Gold Star Families -- those who have lost loved ones in combat.
More than $46,000 in education scholarships have already been awarded to Marine veterans in his name, and the Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation will work to erect Gold Star Family memorial monuments across the state and country.
The first monument will be dedicated Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar.
Friends, family and community leaders celebrated Williams' 90 years in Charleston on Tuesday, including Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who gave him a West Virginia state flag for his birthday.
"This represents who we are as West Virginians ... and it also represents the promise of possibilities that you fought for -- and continue to fight -- for all of us," Tennant said.
Williams said he was thankful for the turnout Tuesday, and said his emotions were "running about 99 miles per hour in this moment."
"I've said since the day I received the Medal of Honor that I wear it not just because of what I did -- I was only doing what I had been trained to do -- but I wear it for those Marines who never got to come home, and for those who gave their lives so that I could come home," he said.
"I have been to a great number of celebrations and activities in my life but I have never in all those many times been as touched as I am this evening."
Maj. Gen. James Livingston, a fellow Medal of Honor recipient from South Carolina, met Williams in 1970 and said he is "a legacy in every sense of the word."
"If you are looking for somebody who is a real hero, a great American, there's no better example than Woody Williams," Livingston said. "He set the example for all of us. He's really an icon in the Corps."
The Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation's website, which was unveiled Tuesday, can be accessed at www.hwwmohfoundation.org.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at Mackenzie.firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.