Congress honors WWII hero of Iwo Jima with ultimate salute

Jul 13, 2022, 8:13 PM | Updated: Jul 14, 2022, 5:48 pm

Daughter Tracie Ross, left, wipes her eyes as the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Hershel...

Daughter Tracie Ross, left, wipes her eyes as the flag-draped casket bearing the remains of Hershel W. "Woody" Williams lies in honor in the U.S. Capitol, Thursday, July 14, 2022 in Washington. Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died at age 98. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress gave its ultimate final salute Thursday to Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, a 5-foot-6 “force of nature'” in the battle of Iwo Jima and the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.

Seventy-seven years after his wartime heroism, Williams, who died last month at 98, lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, a tribute reserved for the nation’s most distinguished private citizens. Only six others have received the honor: civil rights icon Rosa Parks, the Rev. Billy Graham and four Capitol police officers.

Just 21, Williams was a Marine corporal when U.S. forces came ashore on the strategic Japanese island in early 1945. Williams moved ahead of his unit and eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun positions. Facing small-arms fire, he fought for four hours, repeatedly returning to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers. President Harry Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration, later that year.

But the new tribute to Williams was about more than his bravery in combat service. It served as recognition for a generation of heroes, now dwindling in numbers, who fought in World War II. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Williams wanted Thursday’s ceremony as a way to recognize every Medal of Honor recipient from that war.

“With Woody’s passing, we have lost a deeply selfless American and a vital link to our nation’s greatest generation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during the ceremony.

Pelosi said Williams was far from the biggest Marine, standing only 5-foot-6 and weighing in at 130 pounds, “yet he was a force of nature on the battlefield.” She said he singlehandedly destroyed seven enemy positions, and that Truman said he acted with “unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism.”

Lawmakers have lauded Williams throughout the week, marveling at his youth during his actions at Iwo Jima. They also hailed his public service following his military career, which included establishing a foundation that works with local stakeholders to create monuments for Gold Star families of the fallen throughout the country.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., recalled meeting Williams at one such ceremony in Owensboro, Ky.

“By that point, he’d been giving back to his beloved country for 77 years,” McConnell said. “So, needless to say, Woody’s service leaves us a rich legacy.”

Williams was well known in his native West Virginia. In 2018, a Huntington, Va., medical center was renamed in his honor, and the Navy commissioned a mobile base sea vessel in his name in 2020.

The state’s two senators took the Senate floor Wednesday to remember him. Democrat Joe Manchin called him the “greatest of the greatest generation.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito recalled his humility, saying that when Truman presented him with the Medal of Honor, Williams remembered asking himself why he was selected for the nation’s highest military honor when Marines right beside him did not make it home.

“That shows you the kind of man that Woody Williams was, always putting his country and his comrades first and never concerned with who got the credit,” Capito said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

7 days ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

7 days ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

7 days ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

8 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

8 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

11 days ago

Congress honors WWII hero of Iwo Jima with ultimate salute