WWII vet recalls arrival at Iwo Jima during school visit
CEREDO — Seventy-four years and one day after Hershel “Woody” Williams set foot on Iwo Jima during World War II, he paid a visit to Ceredo-Kenova Middle School to address the student body.
Williams, 95, is one of only four living Medal of Honor recipients from that war. On Friday, he recounted a few memories from his time serving in the Marines while highlighting the tremendous responsibility he carries with him each day, having represented the United States of America for more than two decades.
Then he turned his attention to the students seated before him.
“One day soon your country will depend on you to take charge of what happens to us. Some of you will fight for our freedom even though there will always be tyrants, dictators and bullies that will try and take it from you,” Williams told the students.
“I didn’t join the Marines just to travel and go other places, but to protect my country and my freedom. Our freedom.”
Feb. 21 marked the 74th anniversary of Williams’ arrival on Iwo Jima, and two days later on Feb. 23, 1945 — the same day as the iconic flag-raising on Mount Suribachi — he completed the task that would earn him his Medal of Honor.
When American tanks trying to open a lane for infantry encountered a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, Williams went forward alone with his 70-pound flamethrower to attempt the reduction of devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions.
His visit Friday was made possible after Kim Wolfe, who is serving as the school’s resource officer, overheard a classroom discussing World War II and local hero Woody Williams.
Williams, a close friend of Wolfe, agreed to address the student body upon request — a dream come true for CKMS
Principal Brian Davis, who has wanted the veteran to speak to a group of his students for several years now dating back to when he was a history teacher at Spring Valley High School.
“I taught at SVHS for 10 years and never did get the chance for him to come, so when Kim (Wolfe) said he could set something up, I was thrilled,” Davis said. “I know he travels all around the country, so for him to take some of his time to come and speak at our school, to our students, is amazing.”
Davis could hardly wipe the smile off his face while watching countless students show their appreciation toward Williams, most snapping a quick picture before heading back to class. Students also wrote letters for the WWII vet to take home with him.
At Iwo Jima, Williams was experienced in operating and firing a flamethrower, but he said he wasn’t always so brave with the weapon. When taking questions from the student body, he was asked what it was like to use the machine for the first time.
“It was a bit scary, and one mistake that I made only once was firing it into the wind. I lost all the hair on my arms and lost my eyebrows, too,” Williams said, “but it never happened again after that. I was smarter than that.”
Luke Creasy is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch and Wayne County News. Follow him on Twitter @HDcreasy.