A World War II veteran of Iwo Jima and recipient of the Medal of Honor is counting on hundreds of teenage boys at a Tampa public school to honor his dream.
Marine Corporal Hershel “Woody” Williams’ vision is to build a memorial in every state honoring Gold Star families, the spouses, parents, children and extended family members of military men and women who have been killed in combat.
Williams was invited to speak to students at Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, 3915 E. Columbus Ave., Tampa, after the students decided to build a Gold Star Family memorial for their capstone project.
The 90-year-old Marine wore a bright red jacket that contrasted with the pale blue ribbon of the Medal of Honor fastened around his neck.
“This medal I’ve claimed from the very beginning, it really doesn’t belong to me,” Williams said. “I’m just a caretaker of this medal because if it hadn’t been for those individuals being willing to give their lives and the other individuals willing to protect me, I wouldn’t be here.”
In the room, is fellow Marine Master Sergeant Will Price, who called Williams a living legend of the Corps.
“You know, a Medal of Honor recipient and after reading his citation and reading about the man to actually be in the same room and hear him speak, it took my breath away,” Price said. “There was a moment where he was talking about what he did Iwo Jima and it looked like he was going to cry, and then looked like I was going to cry and then I thought the whole room might shed a tear.”
Williams still chokes up a little when recounting February 23, 1945. That was the day the Marines raised an American Flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. It’s a historic photograph that was turned into an iconic statute.
Yet, it’s something Williams didn’t witness because it’s also the day he, under constant machine gun fire, using six flamethrowers took out seven Japanese pillboxes – single-handedly.
“They never touched me in that four hours. And there is no answer in my mind for that, but had another purpose. I think God had another purpose. Maybe I’m fulfilling that purpose. I hope I am,” Williams said.
Williams’ purpose now is to honor Gold Star families by getting memorials built in all 50 states in the next five years.
And Florida’s will be built in front of Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy if Adam Wallace has his way. Wallace is part of the student government leadership at the historic brick school in East Tampa.
“I’m extremely confident that we’ll be able to finish this project by the end of 2014 because we’re in the state of Florida, many veterans live here, many families,” Wallace said.
He said the academy needs to raise $40,000 to build the monument. And to kick-off their effort, Williams brought a check for $5,000 from his foundation, the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.