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Woody Williams, last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient, dies at 98

Herschel “Woody” Williams — a West Virginia native who was the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II — died Wednesday at the Huntington VA medical center named for him. He was 98.

Williams’ family and the nonprofit foundation he started to encourage the establishment of monuments honoring the survivors of those who died in military service announced his death on the foundation’s Facebook page this morning.

“Woody’s family would like to express their sincere gratitude for all of the love and support,” the post says. “They would also like to share that Woody’s wish is that people continue to carry on his mission.”

He was born in 1923 in Quiet Dell in Marion County as the youngest of 11 children. Williams received the Medal of Honor for gallantry as a U.S. Marine during the Battle of Iwo Jima where he, armed with a flame thrower, destroyed a series of enemy emplacements on Feb. 23, 1945.

He was recently hospitalized and his family announced Tuesday he was living out his final days.

After the death of Charles Coolidge in April 2021, Williams became the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.

Until recently, Williams has been active in establishing memorial monuments for Gold Star families who have lost loved ones who have died in service to their country including one at Heritage Port in Wheeling and one in Monroe County, Ohio.

Williams and his foundation are responsible for establishing 103 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with more than 72 additional monuments underway in 50 states and 1 U.S. territory.

In 2021, Williams was hospitalized in Huntington after falling down a flight of stairs. He suffered several broken ribs and pelvic fractures in that fall. Those injuries did not require surgery but did call for significant rehabilitation.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Williams was “the embodiment of a true American hero.”

“Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear. Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many across our great state and entire nation. We join all West Virginians in praying for Woody’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” Manchin said.

“Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time. We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation. In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar – his most recent Veterans project – to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and Veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built. … As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement Wednesday on Williams’ death.

“I ask all West Virginians to join Cathy and I in praying for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones, and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States of America,” he said. “Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody’s contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation.”

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