CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Navy is going to name a ship after the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, a victory that proved to be a turning point in World War II.
The Navy will officially announce its plans to honor Hershel “Woody” Williams at a Jan. 14 ceremony in Charleston, W. Va., according to West Virginia news station WSAZ.
Williams, 91, from the state’s Cabell County, was presented with the valor award for clearing a series of Japanese pill boxes with a flamethrower under heavy fire during the bloody 1945 battle that claimed the lives of more than 6,800 U.S. servicemembers and wounded another 19,000. He then refused evacuation despite shrapnel wounds. The battle was immortalized in the iconic “flag-raising” photo by The Associated Press’ Joe Rosenthal.
The move to name a ship after Williams picked up steam in February when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., submitted a request to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The announcement was first made in October; however, few details were available.
“I am thrilled the U.S. Navy will name a Navy ship after World War II Medal of Honor recipient and my dear friend, Woody Williams,” Manchin said in a statement in October. “Naming a ship after Woody is a lifelong tribute to Woody’s brave actions and his dedication to public service.”
In recent years, Williams has taken up championing veterans issues through his nonprofit, The Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation. He returned to Iwo Jima — now called Iwo To — in March for the battle’s 70th anniversary ceremony. He told Stars and Stripes he remembered the bullets bouncing off the body of his flame thrower, which was strapped to his back, as he sought cover from withering Japanese fire.
“If we had never put Old Glory on Mount Suribachi, it would have been just another campaign,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “The flag is what energized everything that took place. Our morale was dragging, we had lost so many guys. When that flag when up on the 23rd [of February], we got a new spirit. We are going to win this thing.”