Update: At a memorial Sunday in Charleston, West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin said Hershel W. "Woody" Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, would lie in state at the US Capitol. But Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer announced he would actually lie in honor. The distinction, per to the Architect of the Capitol, is that government officials and military officers lie in state while private citizens lie in honor, reports the AP. A date and other details will be forthcoming. Our original story from Wednesday, which details Williams' heroics, follows.
Woody Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, whose heroics under fire over several crucial hours at the Battle of Iwo Jima made him a legend in his native West Virginia, died Wednesday at age 98 at the Veterans Affairs medical center bearing his name in Huntington, the AP reports. "Today, America lost not just a valiant Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient, but an important link to our Nation's fight against tyranny in the Second World War," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. "I hope every American will pause to reflect on his service and that of an entire generation that sacrificed so much to defend the cause of freedom and democracy."
As a young Marine corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun positions. Later that year, at age 22, Williams received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military valor, from President Harry Truman at the White House. "For me, receiving the Medal of Honor was actually the lifesaver because it forced me to talk about the experiences that I had, which was a therapy that I didn't even know I was doing," Williams said in 2018. Iwo Jima was where Marines planted the American flag on Mount Suribachi, a moment captured in one of the most iconic war photographs in history. Williams said he saw the flag from a distance after it went up as troops around him celebrated.
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Williams' actions in battle to clear the way for American tanks and infantry were detailed on the military's Medal of Honor website: He was "quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machinegun fire from the unyielding positions." Facing small-arms fire, Williams fought for four hours, repeatedly returning to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers. After the war, Williams remained in the Marines before working for the VA for 33 years. Williams relied on his fiancée, Ruby, to get him through the anxious times during the war, saying he had to get back to the girl in Fairmont he was going to marry. Their marriage lasted 62 years. Ruby Williams died in 2007 at age 83. The couple had two daughters and five grandsons.