Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, died early this morning at the Huntington VA hospital named for him.

The Woody Williams Foundation stated, “at 3:15 a.m., Hershel Woodrow Williams, affectionately known by many as Woody, went home to be with the Lord. Woody peacefully joined his beloved wife Ruby while surrounded by his family at the VA Medical Center which bears his name.”

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

Woody Williams served in World War II with the Marine Corps as a flamethrower at Iwo Jima in 1945, where he turned 98 on October 2. His valor there was later acknowledged when President Harry Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor for his actions.

He was the final surviving World War II veteran to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Given his humble origins, he was unquestionably the most unlikely of heroes.

“I just grew up as a country boy, working on a farm. To have this happen all these years later is just so very difficult for me to understand,” Williams said.

Woody was a farm boy from West Virginia, who would go on to join the US Marines and be part of something he called a “miracle,” not only surviving the Battle of Iwo Jima but also receiving the Medal of Honor for what people today might refer to as “superhero” action. Even as our country prepared to name a military ship in his honor in March 2020, Woody remained modest.

“It wasn’t anything outstanding that particular day, February 23, 1945,” Williams stated. “It was just another day of battle, as far as I was concerned. I was just the guy who was trained to do the flamethrower.”

“People idolize movie stars and professional athletes. But, as Marines, we idolize men like Woody and what he did on Iwo Jima,” said Sgt. Maj. Sean McLain.

It has taken 75 years for Woody to be recognized, which is the same amount of time it took for people like US Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus – who worked hard to get it done – to recognize him. Both said it was long past due.

“And it was funny because Ray took the position,” Manchin stated. “I feel bad we didn’t do it sooner.’ You just have to push along, push along.”

Getting a ship named after Woody was a Herculean effort, spearheaded by Woody’s buddy and fellow Marine Ron Wroblewski, who spent years gathering more than 70,000 signatures on a petition to have a naval ship named in his honor.

“Ron really gets all the credit,” said Woody’s grandson, Brent Casey. “He started this thing here in Norfolk. He spotted a Navy ship with a Medal of Honor recipient’s name. The lighbulb went off and the rest is history.”

With Ron’s objective receiving a significant boost from Senator Manchin, the boat was at last ready to go. Woody Williams, who will be 96 in 2020, would be there in person to take part in the official commission of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams that year.

Capt. George McCarthy of the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams stated, “What we’re seeing here is very unique. We have a living namesake. That in itself is very rare.”

Capt. David Gray of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams had the same feelings.

“Every time you’ll see that ship you can say, ‘I put that ship to commission. I was one of the original crew members on that ship.’ I’m very proud to be there. Our crew is extremely excited and overwhelmed they’re going to hold that title,” said Gray.

Woody spoke about the pride of his name being included on a ship where future generations would serve their country with the same honor that he and previous generations had served their nation. He also recognized two young crew members from West Virginia who were serving aboard the ship named after their home state’s military hero.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Chase Welch said. “Hearing about him, a hero coming out of West Virginia… and me, being from West Virginia, coming here as my first command… that’s super surreal.”

The ceremony in Arlington, Virginia, was just days before our country and the rest of the world went into lockdown due to COVID. Woody didn’t let it get in his way. He put on his mask and showed up at WSAZ to propose his friend Ron Wroblewski for a Hometown Hero for all of his hard work on the ship naming project.

We caught up with Woody at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, DC, where he was attending a ceremony at the White House later that year. I get a feeling of respect when I think about all those United States Marines who were reacting there that day and meeting their hero.

He would keep on doing what he loved, traveling across the United States to pay tribute to Gold Star families who had lost sons and daughters in battle.

Woody turned 98 last October, a birthday that would be appropriate for an American hero. Woody was performing his duties, as usual, this Memorial Day, honoring his nation and those who gave their lives for it.