CHARLESTON, W.Va. — He’s 96, but has the look of somebody still in his 60’s. West Virginia’s only living Medal of Honor Recipient Hershel Woody Williams celebrated his birthday Wednesday making the rounds and speaking about his project, the Gold Star Family Monuments.
“We’re leaving for Texas Friday and we’ll dedicate one out there Saturday which will be the 55th. We have only five states that don’t have one now,” said Williams. “They’re way up north, but we’ll get them.”
Spry and alert, Williams still gets around well and attributes his longevity and quality of life to his regimen of exercise which he says came from the Marine Corps.
“They give you a vaccination which makes you do P-T every day and I still do it every morning,” laughed Williams.
In addition to just clean living and exercise, he credits a boss from the 1960’s for giving him a home remedy which seemed to have sustaining value.
“There’s no scientific evidence around it, but his dad was an old country doctor in Blacksburg, Virginia and told him when he was 16 years old if he wanted to maintain good health and lots of energy drink vinegar and honey every morning. I figured it it did it for him, it will do it for me and I’ve been doing that ever since,” Williams said.
Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor for his exploits on Iwo Jima during World War II. He took out seven Japanese gun emplacements, or “pill boxes” with a flame thrower. His actions gave Marines a foothold to advance. His heroic action came the same day of the iconic raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi.
Williams said he didn’t see it at first.
“I saw it immediately after it was up and the reason was Marines around me started jumping up and firing their weapons and yelling about a flag,” said Williams. “I was about a thousand yards away.”
He’s seen a lot of things in 96 years. Williams lived through the Great Depression, but said his family was no worse off than anyone else. He grew up on a dairy farm outside Fairmont and every day of his young life his family would load up milk and other farm products they produced and take them into the city to peddle door to door.
“Very few people had an automobile, but we had a Model-A Ford which was our farm vehicle. My dad said it was a work vehicle and we couldn’t use it for anything but that, so everywhere we went, we walked,” he said.
Williams marveled ad the advancement in communication remembering having to ask an operator to connect his telephone to another on the country party line. Advancements in medicine have also amazed the 96 year old Williams.
“When I came home from World War II, the average age was 48 yeas old. During the Depression we had not doctors, we had no medical care. You took care of yourself and treated yourself with home remedies,” he said.