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Medal of Honor Recipient
Visits Parris Island Recruits
By Michael Kerr
Bob Sofaly/Gazette Sgt. Patrick Ezel, left, gas chamber instructor with Field Training Platoon at Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot Parris Island, discusses basic training with Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams on Thursday afternoon.
A Medal of Honor recipient was at the Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island on Thursday to see how the base has changed and to speak with young Marines. Retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel "Woody" Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman for his actions on Iwo Jima, Volcano Island, on Feb. 23, 1945.
Williams won't talk about his actions that day, choosing instead to give anyone who asks a copy of the citation he received when awarded the Medal of Honor.
The humble war hero said he doesn't want anyone to think he's bragging.
"Covered only by four rifleman, 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 flame throwers, struggling back frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements to wipe out one position after another," the citation states. "His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment, and aided in enabling his company to reach its objective."
Williams said he didn't know what the Medal of Honor was until he was called to Washington, D.C., to receive it, but that it changed his life.
"I feel like I became a role model at that time," Williams said. "I had an obligation to all those Marines who didn't get to come home, especially to two Marines who died on Feb. 23, 1945 protecting my life. I wear it in their honor, not mine."
Williams, who was visiting Parris Island with a Marine Corps League group from West Virginia, said returning to the depot brought back memories and rekindled his pride.
"It's like taking a pep pill," Williams said. "I get an uplift through seeing young people achieve a goal in life that they never thought they could achieve."
Williams said it was easy to imagine himself in the place of today's recruits because he had the same fears and doubts in 1943 that they have now.
He also said he was impressed by the drive and accomplishments of today's Marines.
"I firmly believe they are more dedicated and more focused today than they were during the war," Williams said. "Many of those during the war didn't want to be there. Volunteers have to want to be there or they wouldn't be there. There's a big difference between wanting to do something and being required to do something."
Staff Sgt. Shannon Johnson said he was glad he had a chance to speak with Williams.
"It's one thing to go out and be a war hero," Johnson said. "It's another thing to go out and be a war hero and then come back and speak to young Marines."
Johnson said it was a rare treat to meet one of only 141 living Medal of Honor recipients.
"And he did it at Iwo Jima, one of the greatest Marine Corps achievements," Johnson said. "I've never seen someone who can grab your attention like him. Every Marine who met him was just dumbfounded."
© 2002, by The Beaufort Gazette
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