At the height of World War Two, 18-year-old Hershel “Woody” Williams tried to join the U.S. Marine Corps, but a recruiter told the 5-foot-6 dairy farmer: “Go home, you’re too short.”
The height requirement soon changed, according to a foundation named for Williams, who joined the Marines and went on to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor after single-handedly taking out a series of Japanese positions in the bloodiest battles on Iwo Jima. Williams died Wednesday at 98 years old.
Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War Two, died at a hospital in his home state of West Virginia, according to the U.S. military and the Woody Williams Foundation, a nonprofit serving military families.
“Today, America lost not just a valiant Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient, but an important link to our Nation’s fight against tyranny in the Second World War,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement Wednesday.
In 2017, the U.S. Navy christened the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, an expeditionary mobile base.
The 1945 battle for the strategic island of Iwo Jima took the lives of 7,000 Marines. When he hit Iwo Jima’s black sands, Williams crawled through piles of dead Marines wrapped in their ponchos and the wreckage of destroyed U.S. tanks to find his company facing the enemy with nothing but bomb craters for cover, according to a 2021 profile of Williams in the Tennessean newspaper.
After the war he worked for what is now the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 30 years and later established his foundation. He also ran a horse farm in West Virginia.