Bidding Farewell to Hershel Woodrow Williams

Bidding Farewell to Hershel Woodrow Williams
Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Hershel Woodrow Williams passed away on June 29, 2022 at the age of 98.

As Americans prepared to celebrate our nation’s independence, a large group of mourners gathered at the West Virginia State Capitol building to bid their final farewells to Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Hershel Woodrow Williams. “Woody,” as he was affectionately known by family and friends, passed away on June 29, 2022, at the Veterans Center in Huntington, West Virginia. He was 98.

Mr. William’s body lay in state in the rotunda of the West Virginia State Capitol on July 2-3 as a steady stream of patriots filed past to pay their final respects. Those honoring him included the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Troy Black, seven fellow Medal of Honor recipients, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and Senator Joe Manchin. Even Pat Waters, the grandson of Gen. George Patton, was there.

After the official viewing, Woody’s flag-draped casket was taken to the West Virginia Cultural Center in a snow-white hearse adorned with the Marine Corps emblem. The Marine band played as two platoons of Marines, carrying rifles with fixed bayonets, marched in front.

Missing Man Formation

When the hearse arrived, the burly Marine Corps body bearers removed the casket and held it up as four F-16s and F-35s performed a “Missing Man Formation” flyover. This aerial maneuver was first performed before World War II.

At that time, a group of military aircraft would fly over with one plane missing. This symbolized the missing soldier who had paid the ultimate price. By the end of the war, the same maneuver became even more meaningful with the “pull up” when four jets arrive and one, representing the departed, leaves the formation. It is arguably the most powerful visual performed by military aviators. So it was on this occasion.

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As the four fighter jets passed over CWO William’s casket in a V-formation, one of them turned on the afterburners, broke off from the remaining three and flew off into the sunset. It symbolized a final salute to the deceased warrior.

Bidding Farewell to Hershel Woodrow Williams
Mr. William’s body lay in state in the rotunda of the West Virginia State Capitol on July 2-3 as a steady stream of patriots filed past to pay their final respects.

Inside the Cultural Center, Governor Jim Justice referred to the famous people, including presidents, who the diminutive five-foot-six-inch Mr. Williams met during his long life.

“No matter who was present when Woody entered,” Gov. Justice said, “he sucked the air out of the room.” He might have been small in stature, but he had a big soul, and until the end of his long life, he was a hard-charging Marine placing himself at the service of others.

His iron-clad determination led to his survival when wielding a flame thrower, a weapon widely used during World War II. Woody once said that the life expectancy of such men in battle was five minutes. When the other members of his six-man group were killed, he was solely responsible for whipping out the remaining Japanese pillboxes. This effort later won him the Medal of Honor.

Gen. Berger summed up the deceased well when he explained how there was one word in his Medal of Honor citation that Woody did not like: alone. Woody knew that winning wars and earning medals along the way could not be done without a group effort.

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CWO Williams’ coffin was then removed, placed in the hearse and departed. One final honor is reserved for this great man. Because he is the last World War II Medal of Honor recipient, his body will lie in state in the nation’s Capitol after the July 4 recess.

“West Virginia –Almost Heaven.”

Family and friends then proceeded to the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument1 just outside the Cultural Center. These shrines represent this great man’s effort to honor the families of fallen warriors and recognize the sacrifice they made for their country. Over 100 such monuments exist nationwide, with seventy more in progress.

Old and young, men and women, and war veterans wept during the final flag folding carried out with meticulous detail by the Marine Corps body bearers. Taps played in the background as these herculean men, who seemed to be carved from granite, handled the symbol of America with unspeakable reverence.

*                      *                      *

Woody was treated with similar reverence when he ended up at the Cleveland Clinic on June 25, 2022, with health issues that would ultimately take his life. When finally released, he was not looking forward to the five-hour ambulance ride back home. His grandson Brent Casey made a few calls and got the help of two retired Army pilots who work with Metro Life Flight2. When they heard Woody’s story, they were overjoyed to help take him back to West Virginia.

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Thus, Hershel Woodrow Williams was given the first-class treatment he deserved in order to spend the last days of his life back home. When the crew landed at the Woody Williams Veterans Administration Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, they rolled the legendary veteran out on a stretcher. Casey reported that the first words out of his mouth were, “West Virginia –Almost Heaven.”

Footnotes

  1. //woodywilliams.org/monument-projects.html
  2. //www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/cleveland-metro/last-living-wwii-medal-of-honor-recipient-receives-special-flight-home-to-west-virginia-from-cleveland

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