American hero and Medal of Honor recipient speaks in Lubbock - FOX34 Lubbock

American hero and Medal of Honor recipient speaks in Lubbock

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LUBBOCK, Texas -

An American hero and Marine awarded the nation's highest honor who now advocates for families of service members killed in the line of duty speaks in Lubbock Wednesday. 

Hershel "Woody" Williams joined the service like thousands of others after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"My purpose of joining the Marine Corps was not fight somebody some place else, my purpose solely was to stay right here in the United States and protect my freedom and protect my country so nobody could take that away from us," Williams said.

Despite enthusiastically joining, he was not quite  prepared for what was to come.

"As a 19-year-old, well 18, 19-year-old, I didn't know that I would have to go to a foreign land and fight somebody I never had heard tale of," he said. "So it wasn't until I got in boot camp that I realized that I was going to have to go with the others to the Pacific that I never even heard tale of. I wasn't even sure we had a Pacific."

So he went off to war, serving in the infamous Battle of Iwo Jima.

"I had six Marines that I was responsible for, I was their leader if you will, and they were individuals that we had trained with for about six months on demolition and flame thrower and it was my responsibility to make sure they had everything they needed to fulfill their job."

On Feb. 23, 1945 he saw battle for the first time. His squadron gone, his remaining brothers in arms taking fire from fortified Japanese Machine Guns.

"When my commanding officer asked me, as the only flamethrower left in his outfit, if I could do something about these reinforced concrete pillboxes because we had attempted over and over to break through and all we were doing were losing Marines. They had all the advantage and we have none. We're out in the open, they're enclosed."

Woody rose to the challenge. Supported only by four riflemen, he crawled through the mud and dirt, avoiding a barrage of bullets toward the bunkers.

"I eliminated, that day, in four hours, the enemy within seven of those pillboxes. How I did that, I have no explanation. Much of it I don't even remember."

Accounts of the battle note Woody crossed enemy lines multiple times to swap out flame throwers, each time charging back to clear the way for American forces to take the island.

"I did not think I did anything special. I didn't know why, the day I received the Medal of Honor I still didn't know why I got it. They read a whole bunch of words but that was just describing what was going on and I just thought it was something that had to be done and so I did it."

President Truman awarded him the honor in Oct. of 1945. Since then he has been traveling the country advocating for families of the men and women who serve and die in uniform. 

"We have had so many individuals sacrifice their life in the armed forces, we call them Gold Star Families and we as a country and we as a society have not done anything to actually pay tribute and to honor to those people who gave a loved one so we could be free."

At 94 years old, he shows no signs of stopping. 

In each speech he gives, he has one message that he hopes resonates.

"We as citizens of the county, I feel owe some form of return to serve America in some way and if all of us take on that role then we are going to be actually serving each other, and helping each other."

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