The story has been told so many times, now. But it bears repeating, especially as living World War II veterans in West Virginia and beyond become more scarce.
Hershel “Woody” Williams, a 5-foot-6-inch kid who had only gotten into the Marines after they lowered the height standard, eliminated seven machine gun nests with a flamethrower and explosive charges in the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. His grisly work, for which Williams sought no glory, took four hours. It helped the U.S. win a pivotal battle in the Pacific Theater and earned Williams, a Harrison County native now living in Cabell County, the Medal of Honor.
Williams has never claimed to be a hero, nor asked for any of the recognition he has received — the latest of which was the commissioning of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams over the weekend in Virginia. The ship will operate in the Mediterranean as part of the Navy’s 6th fleet.
At the ceremony, Williams, 96, attributed just about everything he has done in life to the help of others. After all, it was veteran Ron Wroblewski, of Huntington, who worked for two decades to get a military vessel named after Williams. And every time Williams recounts his story of Iwo Jima, he mentions four soldiers who provided cover fire so Williams could do what he did. Two died in the effort.
“Many of the miracles in my life have occurred because of the actions of others,” Williams said at the commissioning, referring to the Medal of Honor, the naming of the ship and surviving Iwo Jima at all, among other things.
That’s what greatness looks like. It’s not taking vain glory in the horror of war, or expecting to be revered for those deeds. It’s in realizing nothing is ever accomplished alone, and using recognition not just to acknowledge others, but to better the lives of everyone, as Williams has done through numerous projects honoring and assisting veterans and their families in his post-military career.
A banner at the commissioning event displayed the words “Peace we seek, peace we keep.” It was a phrase Williams chose for the event. During his address, he told those in attendance that, while military sacrifices have been necessary, he hopes for a time when they are not.
We hold with that hope. It might take a miracle, but Williams will be the first one to say he’s seen miracles happen.