CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — On Wednesday, the world lost a true hero.

Medal of Honor Recipient and World War II Veteran Hershel “Woody” Williams passed away at the age of 98.

Williams was the last living WWII Medal of Honor recipient. He joined the United States Marine Corps and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division. Williams received the Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945, from President Harry S. Truman for his “actions, commitment to his fellow service members, and heroism,” the Woody Williams Foundation website said.

Leaders across the state of West Virginia have released statements honoring Williams, and we’ve collected them to be read below.

“I ask all West Virginians to join Cathy and I in praying for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones, and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States of America. Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody’s contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery, and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my life and during my time as Governor to be able to spend a lot of time with Woody Williams over the years. Woody was a living legend and was the embodiment to the world of what it means to be a West Virginian.

We are a state of service – with one of the highest rates of military enlistees per capita in the nation – because we are a state where people are willing to lay it all on the line to help their neighbor. We are selfless, courageous, and share a sense of duty to our state and our nation. Woody Williams was the shining example of these traits. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave because of the acts of valor displayed by Woody Williams in the spring of 1945. The tales of his bravery in Iwo Jima doubtlessly inspired generations of West Virginians to follow the call of duty in defense of our nation and our freedoms. 

But while Woody earned his Medal of Honor by fighting on behalf of America in one of the most important battles in the history of civilization as we know it, we also ought to remember that his service didn’t end when he returned home at the end of that conflict over three-quarters of a century ago. In the decades after, Woody used his platform to lead the charge in another battle: an effort to honor America’s Gold Star families – those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price in defense of our freedoms – through his Woody Williams Foundation. Woody shepherded the construction of 102 Gold Star memorials in all 50 states across America to forever honor everyday Americans who have sacrificed so much. While Woody may be gone from this Earth, his selfless contributions to our state and nation will live on forever.

Woody was part of what was undoubtedly the greatest generation that ever lived. The bravery displayed by men like Woody Williams across America and throughout West Virginia will likely never be matched, and we have to make sure their sacrifices are never forgotten. There are still many World War II Veterans alive in West Virginia, but they won’t be with us forever. We should all take this as an opportunity to reflect on how much these Veterans mean to us. If you know a World War II Veteran, thank them, love them, talk to them, hear their stories while they’re still with us – it is so important. We need to keep their memories alive because, when the world was at its darkest hour, they were our shining light.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice

“Woody Williams was the embodiment of a true American hero. Americans like Woody answered the call to serve our great nation and their sacrifices allow us to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear. Gayle and I are devastated by the loss of our dear friend who meant so much to so many across our great state and entire nation. We join all West Virginians in praying for Woody’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time.

Last Sunday, I was honored to visit with Woody one last time. We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation. In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar – his most recent Veterans project – to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and Veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built.

Woody was a tireless advocate for all Veterans and their family members. Over the years, my staff and I worked with Woody on too many issues to name, including for Gold Star Families, improving our Veterans hospitals and healthcare, and recognizing the contributions of our servicemembers. I will miss riding with Woody during our annual motorcycle ride for Gold Star Families; he was always my wingman. One of my most cherished memories with Woody is traveling to California and Virginia with him when his ship was commissioned and christened. During those moments, Woody showed the world the true nature of being a West Virginian with his humility and grace. As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest.”

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin

Today, West Virginia lost one of its proudest sons, Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving WWII Medal of Honor recipient.

Woody is a hero in every sense of the word, and I was proud to call him a friend.

My prayers are with his family & loved ones. Rest in peace, Woody.

West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito

Woody Williams is a dear friend, proud West Virginian, & national hero. My prayers are with him & his family during this time.

I am once again calling on Speaker Pelosi to pass my legislation allowing the last WWII Medal of Honor recipient to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol.

West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller

The entire West Virginia National Guard is deeply saddened by the loss of Woody and we send our condolences to the family, friends and all those who knew and loved him. For the entirety of his life, Woody has demonstrated valor, humility, kindness and an unwavering dedication to veterans and Gold Star Families. Through his advocacy work with the Woody Williams Foundation, he has impacted thousands upon thousands of lives by advancing the cause for Gold Star Family recognition and numerous veteran’s issues. Woody was a true friend of the West Virginia National Guard and his life inspired so many within our ranks. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Woody and his foundation and for all that he has done for West Virginia, our United States military and for Gold Star Families across the United States. He will forever be an example of the embodiment of West Virginia values and is a hero to not only us, but so many across the country. Our hope is that Woody’s life and service will continue to inspire future generations of West Virginians to serve and serve others for as he would say, ‘The cause is greater than I.’ Semper Fi, Woody.

Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard Maj. Gen. William “Bill” Crane

Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams was a gentleman who served his country with tremendous courage and valor, and he devoted his life to honoring the service of others. I was privileged to know Woody and to spend time with a hero from our Greatest Generation whose purpose has served as an inspiration to so many others across our state and nation. And while we grieve his loss, I believe his example will continue to inspire countless future generations. My heartfelt condolences go out to Woody’s family and all who knew and loved him.

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee

While a grateful state and nation are mourning the loss of a hero and national treasure, so many members of our Cabell County communities are mourning the loss of a friend. Woody Williams earned the honor and respect of the entire nation as a young man at Iwo Jima. He spent the rest of his life demonstrating what it means to be a servant leader. Without regard for position or titles, our friend Woody showed immense respect and kindness to every person he met. He was a humble man, with strength in his convictions and a drive to serve others. He did so day after day, month after month and year after year.

Woody was passionate about honoring service and sacrifice. That passion led him to requesting laws of the state of West Virginia be changed many times. Woody often wrote letters, sent text messages, emails and certainly called with concerns, suggestions and new ideas. We have a Veterans Hall of Fame because of Woody Williams. We have Medals of Valor, the highest honor the state can bestow upon our first responders, because of Woody. We are most certainly a better state and a better nation because of Woody.

As Woody sought to honor, comfort and support our Gold Star Families, I ask that we honor, comfort and support his family. For 98 years they shared a loving husband, father and grandfather with our state and our country. May we remain always faithful, just as Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) Hershel Woody Williams did, and remember as he often said, ‘the cause is greater than I.

Delegate Daniel Linville (R-Cabell)