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Cpl Hershel W. Williams - An Unofficial Biography




Entered service at:

West Virginia.



2 October 1923, Quiet Dell, W. Va.






Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams was born on 2 October 1923 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. He worked as a taxi and truck driver before enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve from that state. When Williams first tried to join the Marines, in the fall of 1942, he was too short. In May of 1943, after he found out The Corps had relaxed its height requirements he wasn't. During the summer and fall the 5' 6", 19 year old received recruit training at San Diego, California, successfully completing advanced training in the use of flame throwers and combat demolitions.

Williams served overseas on New Caledonia and Guadalcanal with the THIRD Marine Division and, as a member of the Twenty-first Marines, took part in combat action on Guam.  A year later his unit was ordered to invade and overcome a small outcropping of rock called Iwo Jima. The beach area in Guam was clear and relatively undefended, and the Marines successfully advance into the jungle. At Iwo, this was not the case. By the time our troops had reached the beach, all the jungle cover had been blown away, and the beach quickly turned into a hellish nightmare.

His company was supposed to hit the beach on February 20, 1945, but there were so many Marines stuck on the beachhead that there was no place for them. They finally landed the next day, even though the Marines were still backed up, unable to advance. The islandís volcanic ash was so porous that it was impossible to dig foxholes or create cover, and the Americans, exposed to enemy fire, were taking huge casualties. Williamsís unit which had landed with six flamethrower men, had lost them all in two days without advancing more than fifty yards. Morale plummeted.

Two days later, on February 23, Williams suddenly heard Marines shouting and firing their weapons in the air. Looking up, he saw that the American flag had been raised on Mount Suribachi. Spurred on by the sight, his company surged forward and finally advanced, crossing the first airfield and assaulting the enemy.

The Japanese defenses were organized around pillboxes of reinforced concrete arranged in pods of three, connected by a system of tunnels. As the battle progressed, American tanks were held up by Japanese guns, minefields and rough island terrain. Seeing this, he strapped on a flamethrower, requested covering fire from four riflemen, and went after the pillboxes. He advanced alone and, in a four hour effort while under terrific fire, utilized demolition charges and flame throwers to annihilate many enemy positions. This was accomplished by repeatedly returning to his own lines to get new flamethrowers or pick up satchel charges, which he tossed into the pillboxes. This single handed charge opened a hole in the Japanese lines, enabling the Marines to continue their advance.

When Williamsís company was taken off the line a week and a half later, only seventeen of the 279 men who had hit the beach with the company had not been killed or wounded.

After the battle of Iwo Jima, Williams went back to Guam as part of the Marine force training for the invasion of Japan, which by God's grace was never to occur. On October 5, 1945, he was ordered to Washington to receive the Medal of Honor. The moment President Harry Truman placed it around his neck, he resolved to consider himself the medalís caretaker for the Marines who didnít come home from Iwo Jima. Discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve in November 1945, Williams reenlisted in the inactive Marine Corps Reserve in March 1948, serving until August 1949. He again joined the Marine Corps Reserve in October 1954, serving with units based in West Virginia and attaining the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4 before retiring in 1969. During the 1960s he was also a civilian counselor to the armed forces, and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal by the Veterans' Administration for this work.