The last surviving Marine Medal of Honor recipient from the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima is about to have a Navy ship named for him. And while the ship will enable Marines and sailors to carry out new missions around the world, Hershel "Woody" Williams is setting out to complete one of his own — to get a Gold Star monument built in all 50 states. A Marine Medal of Honor recipient and World War II veteran will soon have a US Navy ship named for him. 

Hershel "Woody" Williams will become the namesake of the Navy's service’s newest expeditionary sea base ship, , T-ESB 4, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus formally announced at a ceremony in Charleston, West Virginia, earlier this month. 

The Navy named the vessel, slated for delivery in 2018, for the 92-year-old war hero at the prompting of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and after an 18-year campaign by Ron Wroblewski, president of the West Virginia Marine Corps Coordinating Council.

The 92-year-old is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. On Feb. 23, 1945, over a four-hour period in the struggle for the 8 square mile island, Williams took out a network of enemy defensive positions holding up his 3rd Marine Division’s advance — with a flamethrower.

President Harry S. Truman personally awarded Williams the nation's highest military honor on Oct. 5, 1945, for his valor above and beyond the call of duty.

"Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines and black, volcanic sands, Corporal Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions," his Medal of Honor citation reads.

Williams continued to serve in the Marines after the war until 1963, when he retired as a chief warrant officer four. He then continued in public service for a further 35 years with the Veterans Affairs Administration.

In 2012, he established the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a charitable non-profit through which he is seeking to establish Gold Star Family memorials in all 50 states to honor the families of the fallen.

Marine Corps Times recently caught up with Williams to talk about that mission, and how he hopes his legacy will continue to live on through sailors and Marines aboard the new vessel named for him.

Q. What does it mean to have a ship named after you?

A. Well, others made it possible for it to be named for me. Secretary Mabus asked me the same thing. When you name something after someone, it means they're dead. They named it for me. I'm still living, and I'm not going anywhere.

Why would I, as a country boy from West Virginia, have a U.S. Navy ship named after me? The only reason is that others made it possible.

So I accept it as an honor on their behalf, not mine; it makes me very humble. I'm still trying to comprehend its meaning to my family to have my name on it. There's no way I could ever adequately express appreciation for what this country has done on my behalf.

Q. How do you hope this will help carry forward your legacy?

A. I'm not a predictor of the future, except for years there might be those who inquire and wonder who this ship is named after. Who was it that merited this honor? What's his story? I don't know the answer.

Q. Why did your senator Senator Manchin push for this to happen?

First, you have to remember the name of the Marine Ronald Wroblewski, a Vietnam veteran who started this project in 1997. He had been through Norfolk and saw a ship being named after a Medal of Honor recipient. He knew there was a Medal of Honor recipient living back home in West Virginia, so why not do it for a living one?

I told him, "I'm not dead, so stop wasting your time." But he didn't, and by 2005 or 2006 he had submitted some 70,000 documents — signatures, resolutions, and the like — to the U.S. Navy. The Navy said it was the largest file they ever had to name a ship after someone.

My grandson, Brent Casey, a Desert Storm veteran, was familiar with what Wroblewski was doing. We went to Iwo Jima for the 70th anniversary of the battle. Secretary Mabus was there so Brent asked him about it.

Of course [Mabus] didn’t know, but he Secretary Mabus looked into it and said the reason nothing ever happened was there was no ship to name and no authority to name one after someone living. Brent then asked Senator Manchin about it and he agreed to send a letter to Secretary Mabus, who worked to change the rules so a ship could be named for someone living.

Q. You're now working to establish Gold Star family memorials in all 50 states. Why is that such an important project for you?

A. Many Gold Star families have never been recognized. People don't really know what a "Gold Star Dad" is. We as a country have done a pretty good job recognizing Gold Star Mothers, but other family members haven't always been recognized.

When you lose a family member, everyone pays a price, everyone grieves. For many of them, these memorials are the first time in many years anyone has ever said, "Thank you for sacrifice you made when you lost a loved one."

Q. What is the goal of that project?

A. We set up the foundation in 2012 with the idea of having a memorial in each state. In 2013, we had the first dedication in West Virginia, the first in the U.S.

We needed a specific goal for the foundation, so we decided to try to have at least one in every state. We changed the wording to at least one so there'd be no limitations. Now in West Virginia we have three; Kentucky will have three and California, Texas and Ohio will have two.

The goal: Whatever it takes for our communities to be able to honor our Gold Star families, that's what they should do. There are about eight completed memorials in six states and 18 more memorials at different stages of completion.

Q. Today's generation of Marines still read your Medal of Honor citation and learn about what you did that day so many decades ago. What do you recall most about the day you earned your MoH?

I can't say with certainty that one moment stands out above the rest, but if I had to choose, it was the moment the Japanese came charging out of their pillbox with their rifles, with bayonets fixed, toward me.

Fortunately, I still had fuel in the flamethrower and was able to get the igniter to work to set the fuel on fire. I just got them before they got me.

Q. What do you hope young Marines take away when they read that citation and hear about your story?

A. The best advice I'd give is to pay attention to every detail, because you never know what the circumstances will be that your life will depend on something you thought at the moment would never impact you.

Learn everything about your job so you'll be prepared should the unexpected happen.

On Feb. 23, 1945, it wasn't my job to know how a flamethrower works. My job was to make sure those guys had the gear and fuel they needed. But when it got around to me, there was no one left and I had to do it. That couldn't have been planned, but if I didn't know how to work it, I wouldn't be here talking with you today.

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