MERIDIAN, Miss. (NNS) -- Base personnel welcomed the last living U.S. Marine Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima during a Gold Star Program event on May 17 on board NAS Meridian
Hershel "Woody" Williams -- a retired United States Marine Corps warrant officer and United States Department of Veterans Affairs veterans service representative - shared stories about his service during World War II; discussed the importance of the Gold Star Program; and praised our country when he spoke to nearly 500 service members.
"There is no place on this Earth like we have in this country," Williams said. "Regardless of where we go in the world - this (America) will always be home. But we couldn't be who we are, or have the privileges that we have, without the protection that we've had, and have, from our military. All because of people just like you."
His patriotism was even evident in his retelling of experiences on Iwo Jima; experiences that occurred on the same day as the famous photo was taken of service members raising the flag on a hill top after capturing the island from the Japanese.
Williams shared a key piece of history about that moment.
"When the flag went up on Mt. Suribachi - it wasn't the Marines that made history; they were part of it, no doubt, but it was Old Glory that made history," Williams said. "It marked the first time in World War II that Old Glory was flying in enemy territory."
On Feb. 21, 1945, Williams landed on the beach with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines. Two days later with American tanks trying to open a lane for infantry, they encountered a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes.
Covered by only four riflemen, Williams fought for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers.
He returned to the front, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. On one occasion, Williams was charged by enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and he killed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.
His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective.
On Oct. 5, 1945, he and 13 other service members were presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman at the White House.
Williams retired from active duty in 1969, and went to work at the Department of Veteran's Affairs - where he served for 33 years.
In 2010, the not-for-profit Hershel Woody Williams Congressional Medal of Honor Education Foundation, Inc. was established "to honor Gold Star families, relatives, and children who have sacrificed a loved one in the service of their country.
Williams concluded by paying his respects to the families of service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"Those brave men and women have made much more of a sacrifice than any of us," Williams said. "They gave us the privilege of being called ... Americans. This medal belongs to them. I'm just the caretaker of it, and I wear it in their honor - not mine."
For more news from Naval Air Station Meridian, visit www.navy.mil/local/nasmeridian/.