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USS Hershel “Woody” Williams to be commissioned Saturday in Norfolk VA

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NORFOLK, VA (WOWK) – This weekend marks a special day for the United States Navy and the State of West Virginia as the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams is commissioned at a ceremony in Norfolk, Virginia.

13 News got a rare glimpse into what life is like on this massive ship, and rare seemed to be the word of the day – describing the ship, the crew, and the experience of honoring a military hero like Woody Williams.

A rare opportunity – as the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams is converted to the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams. Captain George P. McCarthy is the ship’s master.

“This is a very very rare opportunity and I hope folks appreciate that,” Captain McCarthy says. “There are actions that civilians cannot legally take under international law. Hence the redesignation from a USNS from a civilian captain or master to a USS and a United States Navy commissioned officer and a commissioned ship,” Captain McCarthy says.

That’s where Commissioning Officer Captain David Gray will come into play.

“We work with each other to make life a little easier. We work together as a hybrid crew to make sure that we get the mission done,” Gray says.

“To have such a vessel with your name on it… there is no explanation for it. There have been so many surprises in my life, but this one might top them all,” Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams says.

The 784-foot long vessel features a 52,000 square-foot flight deck that can land up to four aircraft – helicopters and Ospreys – at one time.

Something else uncommon? The ship’s namesake will be present for the commissioning ceremony.

“It is beautiful to have the actual ribbon and medal and him on here, and I know the crew is ecstatic and I know I am too,” Gray says.

“It is very exciting to see the younger sailors excited,” McCarthy says.

Those younger sailors include a few from the Mountain State, like Interior Communication Technician First Class, Chase Welch, from Boone County.

“Him coming from West Virginia, him being born and raised in West Virginia, same as I am. It is very surreal,” Welch says.

Woody will share his story at the ceremony Saturday. He says, of course, he’s excited and honored, but for him, the date has a significant meaning.

“And it just so happens — and I had nothing to do with this at all — that March the 7th is my wife’s birthday. I lost her 13 years ago,” Williams says.

And while she won’t physically be here for the milestone event, there’s no question she’ll be here in spirit.

“For that to happen on her birthday there is no explanation for that. It is perfect,” Williams says.

Surreal, rare, a story made for the history books.

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