From Generation to Generation, Semper Fidelis


WWIn 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.

Woody Williams MOHWhen my wife told him our (then) 13-year old son had an interest in the Corps, Hershel “Woody” 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.”

That young man is now a Lance Corporal in Woody’s beloved Corps and he cherishes his special gift from a special man.

Today is the 240th Birthday of the Marine Corps. When Marines cut their cake at events held throughout this week, tradition has it that it will be done by the oldest and the youngest in attendance as a symbol of continuity, an unbroken line in a story of honor, courage, and commitment.

From generation to generation, from the hands of a hero to the hands of my son. Semper Fidelis.

There are 12 comments.

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  1. Trink Coolidge

    Wow EJ. –   Goosebumps before I’m outta bed. Thank you. And thanks to all that serve this good and great land.

    • #1
  2. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad

    Amen. Thank you.

    • #2
  3. Dick from Brooklyn Thatcher
    Dick from Brooklyn

    Tell your boy “happy birthday” from me to him and all of his buddies.

    • #3
  4. iWe Coolidge


    • #4
  5. Lego Scientist Inactive
    Lego Scientist

    Beautiful, man.  Thank you.

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    Who says there was only one Greatest Generation? Every generation of fine men who serve are part of the greatness that is the Marines. Only in America.

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher

    Thanks for this and my best to your son, EJ.

    • #7
  8. indymb Coolidge

    Semper fidelis!

    • #8
  9. EJHill Podcaster

    My son this morning: “My hand is famous!”

    Me: “Nobody knows that’s your hand.”

    Son: “My hand is anonymously famous!”

    Yes, the humble Marine.

    I don’t know how many of these coins Mr. Williams has passed out over the years, but he is a treasure to both the nation and The Corps. There were 31 Medal of Honor winners on Iwo Jima and he is the last man standing. At 92 he’s still going strong, attending as many Corps and veterans events as he can.

    The Navy recently announced they were going to name a ship after him. (How Gabby Giffords got that honor first…)

    • #9
  10. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup

    Semper Fi 240, from the mother of one and daughter of another Marine. (I think it must have been in 1975 that my father and I went to the Iwo Jima memorial in DC for a Marine Corps birthday ceremony. President Ford spoke.)

    So, okay, E.J., you and I belong to the extended USMC family and the extended LEO family…so I get to be your embarrassing relative! (I’ll wear a big hat with fruit to any meet-ups I can get to!)

    • #10
  11. John Hendrix Thatcher
    John Hendrix

    What a story.

    Thank you, EJ.

    • #11
  12. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl

    After my husband concluded his service in the U.S. Navy, he was employed as a civilian who worked with the Marines to keep their technology functioning properly. He came home one August afternoon,  and announced that he was going to the Middle East with them, in just a few days, to deal with the invasion of Kuwait. (Yes, this was a couple of decades ago.) I felt quite anxious about this and I replied, “But, will you have a gun or anything for protection?” No, he pointed out, his civilian status prevented this.

    “But,” he continued, “I have something better—I have fifty Marines.”

    • #12
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