It’s not often that one gets to meet a living legend, one of the few remaining members of what many call “the greatest generation.”
It’s a rare sight to see and hold a Medal of Honor, to feel its polished metal, to hear the story behind it, how it was earned and awarded by the President.
And so it was earlier today along the waterfront here, when Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams spoke with Sailors stationed aboard the expeditionary mobile sea base ship USNS Hershel "Woody" Williams (ESB 4), just hours before the ship is converted to a USS ship. In town to be honored by the naming and commissioning of a ship with his name across the stern, Williams spent some time with the Sailors that will call his ship their ship when they next take her out to sea.
In front of an attentive group of more than 120 Sailors and crew, Williams asked, “Why me?” in reference to the events that has led to this moment. He also talked to Sailors about what it is going to take to lead the ship to success and life lessons about unity of the crew for the future. The Sailors had their own questions for Mr. Williams, particularly about how he keeps in such good shape for 96.
“I reached a point in life where I couldn’t do the pull-ups and the push-ups that the Marine Corps used to do with me, so I decide I needed something else to keep my body limber so that my joints won’t lock up and I maintain a little bit of muscle,” said Williams. “I developed this system that I do it either in bed or sometimes I lay down on the floor; I move my arms my hips, shoulders, legs and neck, every part of my body in some way 100 times. I used to have pretty good size muscles too, but for some reason they disappeared,” said Williams as the crowd laughed.
Williams and his family toured the ship that is being named after his honor and was taken to the ships mess decks where there is a glass case honoring his heroism and military accomplishments. He was surprised to see what the ship had done for him but he had his own surprise in store. He took his own Medal of Honor that he received from President Harry S. Truman and replaced it with the replica that was made from the ship.
“It was very shocking to me, but the feeling as a Sailor on board the Hershel “Woody” Williams I was just proud, proud to be in that moment, proud to be able to see that moment, it really touched my heart because it just shows how selfless Hershel “Woody” Williams is because that meant a lot to our crew and collectively we were just all humbled by that gesture,” said Senior Chief Tiffanie C. Simpson, Command Senior Chief gold crew.
Capt. David Gray, who will be the future commanding officer of the “Woody” Williams had his own words to say about the honorable moment.
“The man is extremely humble, honorable and probably the best American I ever met,” said Gray. “It is beyond recognition of what you can understand but it is extremely proud, honorable and I don’t think I can ever duplicate that moment in my lifetime.”
Mr. Williams and his family posed for photos with Sailors and crew members and had his last words of wisdom before departing the ship for tomorrow’s ceremony.
Williams, a retired Marine Corps chief warrant officer, is the only living Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, in World War II. As a Marine Corps corporal during the battle, Williams used a flamethrower to eliminate multiple enemy positions with little protection or covering fire. After World War II, he served as a Veterans Affairs counselor for 33 years.
Military Sealift Command currently operates USNS Williams, but upon commissioning, the Navy will operate the ship. The ship will be commissioned at 10 a.m. EST in Norfolk, Virginia.