CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK)—On Wednesday, the world lost a true hero.

Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams passed away at the age of 98.

Williams was the last living WWII Medal of Honor recipient. He joined the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division. Williams received the Medal of Honor on October 5, 1945, from President Harry S. Truman for his “actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism,” the Woody Williams Foundation website says.

Leaders across the state of West Virginia have released statements honoring Williams, and we’ve collected them to be read below.

“I ask all West Virginians to join Cathy and I in praying for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones, and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States of America. Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody’s contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery, and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life and during my time as Governor to be able to spend a lot of time with Woody Williams over the years. Woody was a living legend and was the embodiment to the world of what it means to be a West Virginian.

We are a state of service – with one of the highest rates of military enlistees per capita in the nation – because we are a state where people are willing to lay it all on the line to help their neighbor. We are selfless, courageous, and share a sense of duty to our state and our nation. Woody Williams was the shining example of these traits. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave because of the acts of valor displayed by Woody Williams in the spring of 1945. The tales of his bravery in Iwo Jima doubtlessly inspired generations of West Virginians to follow the call of duty in defense of our nation and our freedoms. 

But while Woody earned his Medal of Honor by fighting on behalf of America in one of the most important battles in the history of civilization as we know it, we also ought to remember that his service didn’t end when he returned home at the end of that conflict over three-quarters of a century ago. In the decades after, Woody used his platform to lead the charge in another battle: an effort to honor America’s Gold Star families – those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price in defense of our freedoms – through his Woody Williams Foundation. Woody shepherded the construction of 102 Gold Star memorials in all 50 states across America to forever honor everyday Americans who have sacrificed so much. While Woody may be gone from this Earth, his selfless contributions to our state and nation will live on forever.

Woody was part of what was undoubtedly the greatest generation that ever lived. The bravery displayed by men like Woody Williams across America and throughout West Virginia will likely never be matched, and we have to make sure their sacrifices are never forgotten. There are still many World War II Veterans alive in West Virginia, but they won’t be with us forever. We should all take this as an opportunity to reflect on how much these Veterans mean to us. If you know a World War II Veteran, thank them, love them, talk to them, hear their stories while they’re still with us – it is so important. We need to keep their memories alive because, when the world was at its darkest hour, they were our shining light.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice

“Woody Williams was the embodiment of a true American hero. Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear. Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many across our great state and entire nation. We join all West Virginians in praying for Woody’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time.

Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time. We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation. In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar – his most recent Veterans project – to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and Veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built.

Woody was a tireless advocate for all Veterans and their family members. Over the years, my staff and I worked with Woody on too many issues to name, including for Gold Star Families, improving our Veterans hospitals and healthcare, and recognizing the contributions of our servicemembers. I will miss riding with Woody during our annual motorcycle ride for Gold Star Families; he was always my wingman. One of my most cherished memories with Woody is traveling to California and Virginia with him when his ship was commissioned and christened. During those moments, Woody showed the world the true nature of being a West Virginian with his humility and grace. As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest.”

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin

“West Virginia lost one of its proudest sons today, and the United States lost a true hero. I am so sad to learn that my friend Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, passed away at the age of 98. Woody embodied exactly what the Greatest Generation was all about: Service to country above self. Not only are his acts of valor on the battlefield well-documented, but the lives he touched in the years since serving had a lasting impact on every person he met. He inspired many to love their country, enter the service, and reminded everyone why our ‘nation under God’ is the greatest on earth. One of the best West Virginians we’ve ever known is now gone, but his lifetime of service and incredible legacy will be with us forever.”

West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito

“Today, we have lost an American hero. Woody Williams embodied the ‘Greatest Generation.’ The Americans who volunteered to fight for their country. As a Medal of Honor recipient, Woody never quit helping his country and those who served.

Woody is a hero in every sense of the word. I am grateful to have called him my friend. Woody will be sorely missed, but his legacy of service, dedication, and patriotism will live on through the countless lives he’s touched. May God be with his family during this time, and may we never forget the unyielding commitment Woody had for the United States of America. God bless Woody Williams.”

West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller

“We are saddened by the passing of Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams – a true American hero. He has been an inspiration to me, personally, and to many across our state and our nation. Woody Williams has been instrumental in supporting West Virginia’s military members and families – especially through his work for Gold Star Families. He leaves behind a legacy of service and will certainly be missed.”    

Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin

“We have been honored to have an original American hero living in our midst. Woody Williams fought to preserve all that is good about our nation. He taught us that we are “one nation under God.” He taught us dignity and integrity. He taught us kindness and humility. Woody Williams and I were not related, but I was always honored to share his last name. His example will live in our institutions and in our hearts for an eternity.”

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams

“The loss of Woody Williams is felt not only in West Virginia, but across the nation. Woody was the best of us. A hero at Iwo Jima, he was an icon to veterans across the nation and became their voice on matters before Congress and in state houses. Our nation mourns his passing.”

West Virginia Rep. David B. McKinley

“The entire West Virginia National Guard is deeply saddened by the loss of Woody and we send our condolences to the family, friends and all those who knew and loved him. For the entirety of his life, Woody has demonstrated valor, humility, kindness and an unwavering dedication to veterans and Gold Star Families. Through his advocacy work with the Woody Williams Foundation, he has impacted thousands upon thousands of lives by advancing the cause for Gold Star Family recognition and numerous veteran’s issues. Woody was a true friend of the West Virginia National Guard and his life inspired so many within our ranks. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Woody and his foundation and for all that he has done for West Virginia, our United States military and for Gold Star Families across the United States. He will forever be an example of the embodiment of West Virginia values and is a hero to not only us, but so many across the country. Our hope is that Woody’s life and service will continue to inspire future generations of West Virginians to serve and serve others for as he would say, ‘The cause is greater than I.” Semper Fi, Woody.”

Maj. Gen. William “Bill” Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard

“West Virginia has lost one of its finest sons. Woody Williams was a true American hero from the Greatest Generation, and I am saddened by his death. Woody dedicated his life to service from the Battle of Iwo Jima to being an advocate for veterans up until his final days. His legacy will live on in West Virginia and beyond. My prayers are with his family and friends during this time. Rest in peace, Woody.”

Congressman Alex Mooney