When U.S. Marine Corps Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams passed away on June 29, 2022, he was the last living World War II-era veteran to receive the Medal of Honor. He earned that honor for his remarkable bravery during the battle of Iwo Jima.
After retiring from the Marines, Williams dedicated the rest of his life to uplifting his fellow veterans, including establishing his own non-profit, the Woody Williams Foundation, which works with local stakeholders to create monuments for Gold Star families across the country.
In the true spirit of public service, before Williams’ passed away, he said that he wanted his body to lay in honor inside of the U.S. Capitol’s rotunda — not for himself, but in recognition of the service of his fellow WWII Medal of Honor recipients.
In recognition of Williams’ achievements, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered a speech on the House floor to praise his extraordinary life of service.
Remarks as prepared are below, or you may watch online here.
“I rise today to honor a great American hero.
“Ronald Reagan once said, ‘some people wonder all their lives if they’ve made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.’
“This is especially true of Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams – who will be lying in honor in the Capitol tomorrow.
“Until his death on June 29, Williams was the sole surviving Marine from World War 2 to wear the Medal of Honor.
“Then-Corporal Williams was a 21-year-old Marine when his unit landed on Iwo Jima in February 1945.
“He was thrown into bloody combat almost immediately.
“Japanese forces were dug into a network of reinforced pillboxes, and American forces were pinned down by heavy machine gun fire.
“Williams could see his fellow Marines needed help. So, he grabbed a flamethrower and charged towards the enemy stronghold — alone.
“Can you believe he was just 21 years old when he did that?
“As his Medal of Honor Citation says:
‘Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another.’
“Williams’s actions – his citation concludes – displayed ‘valiant devotion to duty’ and enabled ‘his company to reach its objective.’
“Williams saw the American flag raised on Mt. Suribachi that same day.
“Williams was honorably discharged 9 months later – but he reenlisted in the Reserves twice.
“By the time he retired from the Corps in 1969, he had served 20 years and risen to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4.
“Yet Williams still felt called to serve after he retired. So, among other things, he started the Woody Williams Foundation.
“Williams and his foundation helped establish 104 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across America to date.
“And right now, more than 69 more monuments are underway in 50 states.
“Woody Williams went above and beyond the call of duty on the battlefield and back home.
“And by lying in honor in the Rotunda tomorrow, Williams continues to serve our veterans.
“Some people don’t know this, but Williams said one of his last wishes was to lie in honor in the Capitol.
“But it wasn’t for himself. No, it’s for every Medal of Honor recipient who served in World War 2.
“What a hero.
“Our veterans fought together as a team.
“They sacrificed as a team.
“And now, thanks in part to Woody Williams, we will honor them as a team.
“One last wish. One final act of service. That was Woody Williams – selfless to the end.
“As long as there are Americans like Williams, and all the Medal of Honor recipients we honor this week, this will always be the land of the free and the home of the brave.”