Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died Wednesday at a hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He was 98.
The Marine Corps veteran received the nation’s highest military award for valor for his actions in the Battle of Iwo Jima. The battle took the lives of 7,000 Marines and was one of the bloodiest of the war.
“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,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said. “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.”
On February 23, 1945, Williams, then a 21-year-old Marine corporal and flamethrower operator, single-handedly destroyed multiple Japanese pillboxes and other gun emplacements at great danger to himself.
According to his citation, on one occasion, he “daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants, and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.”
His actions came on the same day as the iconic flag raising at Mount Suribachi, an image captured by an Associated Press reporter that has become a symbol of American military resilience during the war.
Williams was the last of the 473 American service members who received a Medal of Honor in World War II.
His death was announced by the Woody Williams Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves Gold Star military families. The cause was not immediately available.
The National Medal of Honor Museum tweeted Wednesday that “Woody exemplified a life of service through his bravery during the Battle of Iwo Jima, as an advocate for veterans & through the Woody Williams Foundation serving Gold Star Families.”
Williams grew up on a West Virginia dairy farm and joined the Marines when he was 19.