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Mid-Ohio Valley officials, residents: Williams a hero, treated everyone the same

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Gold Star Families Monument at City Park in April 2019. (File Photo)

PARKERSBURG — Despite his small stature, Woody Williams was a larger-than-life figure because of his military heroism and dedication to honoring veterans and their families.

But he treated everyone the same regardless of his role or theirs.

“It didn’t make any difference if you were the president or the lowly mayor of Vienna,” Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp said. “He was a true gentleman.”

Born in the small Harrison County community of Quiet Dell, Williams received the Medal of Honor in 1945 for his actions at the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun positions. The last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, he passed away Wednesday, leading those who knew and worked with him locally to think and speak about his impact.

“How do you say goodbye to a giant of our time — a hero of World War II and a hero every day since?” said Vienna resident and fellow Marine Corps veteran Bernie Lyons. “The best way for me is, ‘Thank you, Woody; you have left the world a better place and left the world for a much better place.'”

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams served as grand marshal of the Independence Day parade in Ripley in 2021. (File Photo)

Lyons met Williams about 20 years ago, but started working with him on the Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments Williams’ namesake foundation worked to establish around the country in 2015. Lyons arranged for Williams to come to Parkersburg Catholic High School after students selected him as their man of the year.

He recalled the then-91-year-old Williams eating lunch with students.

“It was just him and the seniors, and they had a great time,” Lyons said.

That evening, there was a fundraiser at the Parkersburg Country Club for the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation to support efforts to build Gold Star memorials that recognized local veterans and the families of those who died in military service.

Among those Williams met that night were Rapp and then-Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews. That planted the seeds for Gold Star monuments in Vienna and Marietta, Lyons said.

Rapp said many people have great ideas, but Williams helped make his vision a reality.

“Woody Williams was an incredible human being and without a doubt one of the most humble people I’ve ever met,” he said. “They just don’t make people like him anymore.”

Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce met Williams through the process of planning and building a Gold Star monument that was dedicated in City Park in 2019.

“He was a proud West Virginian and an American hero,” Joyce said. “I really admire the fact that he used his celebrity … to help others and recognize others.”

Former Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell recalled Williams speaking in 2011 when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall was set up in the city.

“It was Sept. 2, 2011, and one of the hottest days of the summer,” Newell said. “Several people were treated for heat exposure. He (Williams) didn’t hesitate to accept our invitation when asked to attend and speak.”

Williams returned to the area numerous times, speaking at local businesses and organizations and raising awareness for or helping to dedicate local monuments. He discussed his experiences at local schools, routinely capturing the attention of young students.

According to the Associated Press, services for Williams will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the state Culture Center in Charleston. Visitations will be conducted Saturday and before Sunday’s service in the nearby Capitol rotunda.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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