Williams, who died Wednesday at age 98, was a legend in his native West Virginia for his exploits that came under fire during several pivotal hours in the battle for Iwo Jima. As a young Marine, Williams led his unit in February 1945, taking out a series of Japanese machine gun positions. Facing small arms fire, Williams fought for four hours and returned repeatedly to prepare wrecking charges and obtain flamethrowers.
Later that year, 22-year-old Williams received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for military bravery.
In remarks at a memorial Sunday in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said Williams “never stops giving back.” That included raising money for gold star families — immediate relatives of fallen servicemen — with an annual motorcycle ride.
“It has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Manchin said. He joked that “it won’t stop, because Woody would come after me in the blink of an eye.”
Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said he will miss Williams’ calls and noted that Williams would always give him directions and to-do lists.
“I’ll miss him telling me how to vote. And when I didn’t, how I made a mistake,” Manchin said.
Gene. David H. Berger, commander of the US Marine Corps, said at the memorial that Williams always objected to the idea that he had achieved that feat alone. He always recognized the other men on his team, some of whom never returned home.
“Woody may be the most genuine person I’ve ever met,” said Berger, noting his unique combination of humility and humor. “He can make you laugh. He can make you care about him. That was his gift.”
Williams remained in the Marines after the war, serving for a total of 20 years, before serving as a veterans service representative for 33 years for the Veterans Administration. In 2018, the Huntington VA Medical Center was named after him, and in 2020 the Navy commissioned a mobile base sea vessel.
“He left an indelible mark on our Marine Corps,” Berger said. “As long as there are Marines, his legacy will live on.”
Manchin announced during his remarks that Williams would be in state at the Rotunda, but Pelosi and Schumer said he would lie in honor. The distinction, according to the Capitol architect who oversees the building, is that government officials and military officers lie in state while civilians lie in honor.
Among the millions of Americans who served in uniform during that war, 472 Medal of Honor winners were awarded for heroism during World War II. Also honored was the Unknown Soldier buried at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.
Among the most famous were General Douglas MacArthur; aviators Pappy Boyington and Jimmy Doolittle; Brig. Gene. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former president; Army 2nd Lt. Audie Murphy, who became a Hollywood action star; and Army 2nd Lt. Daniel Inouye, who served in the United States Senate from 1963 to 2012. Many of the winners were honored posthumously.