CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — While Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the launch of the Battle of Iwo Jima, Sunday marked the 75th anniversary of the famous flag raising and the day Hershel “Woody” Williams would become an American hero.
Talking with Woody Williams is like listening to someone reading from a history book firsthand. He is charming and kind, thoughtful and intelligent, with a sense of humor and a contagious laughter.
13 News Reporter Lily Bradley caught up with the Medal of Honor recipient at Yeager Airport Friday, before he caught a plane to Washington D.C. to speak at an event commemorating Iwo Jima 75 years later.
“It is very difficult for me to even realize that it has been 75 years,” recalled Williams. “Some of it is very vivid, much of it is gone in the past because I didn’t make any particular effort to remember it.”
“But some things, we can never, ever forget.”
One memory still very clear, the raising of the American flag at Mt. Suribachi. He didn’t see the flag being raised, but he saw it immediately after.
“Its significance was that it was the first time that the American flag had flown on enemy territory. That is something you can never forget.”
The photo was captured and has become an iconic image. The day that photo was taken was the same day that Williams would become an American hero. Under constant enemy fire, Williams’ actions were “above and beyond the call of duty” – so much so, he would be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman in October of 1945.
“At the time of Iwo Jima, I didn’t even know that this medal existed,” explained Williams.
“Eventually I learned that 2 marines had sacrificed their lives protecting mine – then it took on a completely different meaning.”
Describing himself as a “Country farm boy,” Williams explained that he just assumed he’d return back to the farm after the war was over. Instead, his life completely changed. He became a public figure.
“I had to learn how to talk,” explained Williams with a chuckle. “I had to learn to speak because as a country boy, I didn’t know how to do that and I had to be trained,” he added, grinning from ear to ear.
Williams spoke about many things, including his love for his country and his love for his home, West Virginia. He talked with great pride about his work with Gold Star Families through his foundation, The Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
At 96, he credits good genes, a good sense of humor, and something else to his longevity – a special concoction of vinegar and honey, a mixture he swears by. He says his whole family does it, he has even convinced his 5 grandsons to do it as well.
“I am the longest living person in my family, on both sides. My mom lived to be 85, so we had somewhat of a long gene line. But to be 96 – I never dreamed of living this long,” said Williams.
“I don’t know if that is my secret, but I have been drinking that mixture since I was around 26 years old.”
He is humble, he is kind and he is thankful. Looking back 75 years, Williams continuously asks the same question, “Why me?”
He spent the 75th anniversary in Washington D.C. attending his first professional hockey game, being honored on the ice of the Penguins vs. Capitol game. What a difference 75 years can make.