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Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, will lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.

A date and other details will be announced later, Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

“Woody Williams embodied the best of America: living a life of duty, honor and courage,” Pelosi said. Schumer said: “Woody Williams was an American hero who embodied the best of our country and the greatest generation.”

Williams, who died on Wednesday at 98, was a legend in his native West Virginia for his heroics under fire over several crucial hours at the battle for Iwo Jima. As a young Marine corporal, Williams went ahead of his unit in February 1945 and eliminated a series of Japanese machine gun positions. Facing small-arms fire, Williams fought for four hours, repeatedly returning to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers.

Later that year, the 22-year-old Williams received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman. The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award for military valor.

Williams remembered how it felt to gain recognition for his service during an interview last year with CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.

“I’d never heard of the Medal of Honor. I didn’t know such a thing existed,” Williams said, noting that he was “scared to death” when a general first summoned him to the meeting where he first learned of a mysterious order to report “back to Washington.”

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“I never even dreamed of being able to see a President of the United States, and I’m standing shaking hands with him,” Williams recalled. “Now, you talk about a scared moment! I was a wreck, I really was!”

Truman places a medal around Williams' neck during a ceremony
Marine Cpl. Hershel “Woody” Williams being presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman. 

CBS News


In remarks at a memorial Sunday in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said Williams “never quit giving back.” That included raising money for gold star families — immediate family members of fallen service members — with an annual motorcycle ride.

“It’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Manchin said. He joked that “it’s not going to be stopping, because Woody would come after me in a heartbeat.”

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he will miss Williams’ phone calls, noting how Williams would always give him directions and to-do lists.

“I’ll miss him telling me how I’m supposed to vote. And when I didn’t, how I made a mistake,” Manchin said.

Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, said at the memorial that Williams always took exception to the notion that he accomplished that feat alone. He always acknowledged the other men on his team, some of whom never returned home.

“Woody may be the most genuine person I ever met,” Berger said, noting his unique combination of humility and humor. “He could make you laugh. He could make you care. That was his gift.”

Williams remained in the Marines after the war, serving a total of 20 years, before working for the Veterans Administration for 33 years as a veterans service representative. In 2018, the Huntington VA medical center was renamed in his honor, and the Navy commissioned a mobile base sea vessel in his name in 2020.

“He left an indelible mark on our Marine Corps,” Berger said. “As long as there are Marines, his legacy will live on.”

Manchin announced during his remarks that Williams would lie in state at the Rotunda, but Pelosi and Schumer said he would lie in honor. The distinction, according to the Architect of the Capitol, which oversees the building, is that government officials and military officers lie in state while private citizens lie in honor.

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