Navy to name ship after Medal of Honor recipient Hershel 'Woody' Williams

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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Tuesday applauded the Navy for its decision to name a ship after Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, seen here with Manchin in 2014 after addressing the Marine Corps League National Convention at Embassy Suites. Hershel is the last surviving veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima to have been awarded a Medal of Honor.

The U.S. Navy will name a ship after Hershel “Woody” Williams, West Virginia World War II veteran and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, on Tuesday applauded the Navy's decision to honor Williams, 92, for his military service.

“Naming a ship after Woody is a lifelong tribute to Woody's brave actions and his dedication to public service,” Manchin said in a news release. “Woody embodies the service and sacrifice our great state has given to our nation and this honors not only his legacy but the legacy of West Virginia veterans and their families.”

The ship in question will be an expeditionary sea base, Williams said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The Ona resident said he was “extremely excited and humbled” when he received a call Tuesday morning by U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who told him the news.

“It's almost beyond my imagination ... that the secretary of the Navy — and America as a whole — would think me worthy to receive such an honor,” Williams said.

Born in 1923 near Fairmont, Williams enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943 and was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division, according to information from the West Virginia Encyclopedia.

Williams' heroic actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 earned him the Medal of Honor. Today, he's the last surviving Iwo Jima veteran with that distinction. A shrapnel injury he sustained during that period also earned him a Purple Heart, awarded to him by President Harry Truman.

Following his discharge in November 1945, Williams served in the Marine Corps Reserve until 1969 and also was a counselor to other West Virginia veterans for the Veterans Administration for 33 years.

“When we came back from World War II, West Virginia had one VA medical center at that time, in Huntington,” Williams said. Due to the lack of resources and high number of returning veterans, the VA established 16 field officers around the state to work with other veterans in need — Williams was one of them.

“It was one of the best jobs anybody could ever have,” he said. “Every day, something happened that made you feel good about what you were able to accomplish.”

Seventy years after Iwo Jima, Williams traveled back to the Japanese island in March with a tour group, taking two grandsons and a great-grandson along.

“It was very emotional, but also very rewarding, to go back and see where I was 70 years ago,” he said. “The whole island, when we were there, was barren and blown to pieces. Now, it's all green.”

Before a dedication ceremony can be scheduled at the West Virginia state Capitol, Mabus is required to give Congress a 30-day notice of the honor, Williams said.

Reach Elaina Sauber at elaina.sauber@wvgazette.com, 304-348-3051 or follow @ElainaSauber on Twitter.

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