TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – At 96 years old, Cpl. Hershel “Woody” Williams remembers a lot about his time fighting in the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. Like the moment the American flag was famously raised.
“The Marines around me were shooting their weapons into the air. I didn’t know what was going on until I looked and Old Glory had been put up on Mount Suribachi,” Cpl. Williams said.
He also remembers the nerves he had standing before President Harry S. Truman to receive the Medal of Honor.
“He’s holding the bottom of the medal. His left hand is around my neck right there, and I have always thought he did that so I wouldn’t jump out of my shoes!” said Williams.
The fright of meeting the president that day pales in comparison to what led up to it, when he and his unit encountered fortified enemy pillboxes on Iwo Jima.
“My commanding officer asked me if I thought I could do anything with a flamethrower up against those pillboxes,” Williams recalled.
Surrounded by just a handful of marines to protect him, he charged ahead.
“As I would approach a pillbox, they were supposed to be shooting at the pillbox to keep the Japanese from being able to shoot at me, and I went to work, just doing my job,” he said, remembering the day.
In four hours, he destroyed seven pillboxes. Two men died protecting Woody that day.
“I wear it in their honor, not mine. I have always said I’m just a caretaker of this medal because they helped me receive it,” he said.
Williams is currently in town for this year’s Medal of Honor Convention being held in Tampa Bay. The convention started Tuesday with an opening reception at the Straz Center.
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