WASHINGTON – The last surviving Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, retired Chief Warrant Officer Four Hershel "Woody" Williams, spoke to the NAVSEA Headquarters workforce, July 19.
Williams received the United States military's highest decoration for his heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces. He daringly went forward, protected by only four rifleman, to forge a path for the tanks and infantry. In constant combat for more than four hours, Williams eliminated numerous bunkers with explosive charges and a flamethrower, allowing his Marine Corps infantry company to seize and control a strategically important airfield on the Japanese island.
Williams continues to serve his fellow men and women in uniform through his foundation, the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. Established in 2010, the Foundation pays tribute to Gold Star Families and honors the service of their loved one who made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedom. To date, the foundation has erected 51 memorials to honor Gold Star Families with more planned in the future.
In 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB 4), would be named USNS Hershel "Woody" Williams to honor his extraordinary service.
During his remarks, Williams thanked the NAVSEA workforce for all they do for the nation. When asked how he feels about having a ship named for him, he said, “How can you say without humility that there is a ship sailing the seven seas bearing your name? It’s just unreal to me and I am exceedingly proud.”
Williams recalled some of the scenes he remembers from the Battle of Iwo Jima, including the flag raising atop Mount Suribachi. He and his company were awaiting orders to charge across an airfield toward heavily protected bunkers, when they saw the stars and stripes raised. “In that moment, when we saw the American flag high atop the mountain, we gained the courage we needed to continue on,” explained Williams.
The raising of the flag proved to be a turning point and conveyed there was a real possibility they could win the battle. “The only reason I have this blue ribbon around my neck with the Medal of Honor hanging from it is because of others; others who sacrificed their lives protecting mine.” Williams shared that two of the four riflemen chosen to provide covering fire died protecting him.
Following his remarks, Rear Admiral Bill Galinis, Program Executive Officer for Ships, and the Strategic and Theater Sealift Program Office hosted Williams for a luncheon to provide an update on ESB 4. Williams thanked those responsible for ESB 4, and remarked that as a country boy from West Virginia, he was amazed how anything weighing 90,000 tons can float.
USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4) entered service in early 2018. ESB 4 is a highly flexible, modular platform optimized to support a variety of maritime-based missions that will provide the U.S. Navy with a critical access infrastructure that supports the flexible deployment of forces and supplies.
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