Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
In 2009, my wife was invited to a function in Washington, DC. Our local library had won a prestigious national award and, as treasurer of one of the library’s most popular community programs, she was asked to attend. When she arrived, she found herself seated at a table with an elderly gentleman in his mid-80’s. Raised on a dairy farm in West Virginia, he had lived quite a life. He had worked odd jobs and drove both trucks and a taxi for a living before he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He was working on a project through them in Montana on December 7, 1941.
Like most healthy American males, he went to enlist but he was rejected for military service for being too short. By May 1943, with the war dragging on, he was finally accepted into the Reserves of the United States Marine Corps. A little over a year later, this young man would be in combat with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines on Guam and, in February of 1945, on the island of Iwo Jima.
It was on Iwo that he truly distinguished himself. With advancement stalled by a series of pill boxes built into the black volcanic sand, he became a one-man assault force. Covered by only four riflemen, he fought with a 70-pound flame thrower on his back and took out the enemy positions with fire and explosives. When his fuel tank was empty, he crawled back behind the lines and rearmed. Again and again he did this, for four long hours under withering Japanese fire.
Now my wife’s table companion, this small, elderly man was there as the guest of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, a co-winner of that year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The Pritzker, you see, is where his Congressional Medal of Honor found a permanent home to be displayed for all to see.
When my wife told him our (then) 13-year old son had an interest in the Corps, Williams reached into his pocket and pulled out a challenge coin. “Here, you give this to your son. Tell him he can do no better than the Corps.”
My son has now left the Corps after eight years. This coin remains one of his most prized possessions.
Woody spent the last years of his life fighting for veterans and for Gold Star families. Now it’s our turn to say, “Rest easy, Marine.”
(Parts of this essay were originally written to commemorate the Marine Corps Birthday in 2015.)Published in