Honoring Our Veterans

Medal of Honor recipient to speak
at Operation Bravo Zulu

Event to honor vets, mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day

Operation Bravo Zulu

• Louisville Memorial Auditorium, 970 S. Fourth St., Louisville, Ky.
4 p.m.: Doors open for WWII veterans and their guests. Call by June 3 for reservations. Free food and refreshments available. WWII vehicles on display. 5:45 p.m.: WWII veterans and guests gather in Memorial Auditorium. 6 p.m.: Doors open to the public, tickets are $10.
6:30 p.m.: Program begins with a tribute to all WWII veterans with Emcees Heather French Henry and Rachel Platt. Entertainment by the Ladies for Liberty and Don Krekel Orchestra. Speaker Hershel “Woody” Williams. 8 p.m.: Meet and greet the public. Information: Call Jeff Thoke at (502) 645-5421.

(June 2019) – Hershel Woodrow “Woody” Williams’ first exposure to World War II was through the telegrams he delivered for Western Union. Those telegrams notified families in his own community of the death of a loved one. Those tragedies did not scare him. Instead, those experiences gave him a staunch resolve to do something himself.
At the first opportunity, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. However, he was rejected because his height of 5-foot-6 was too short. The following year, the criteria changed. He was finally accepted into the  Marine Corps in May 1943. He has said that he had no idea of what that enlistment entailed. Somehow, he thought his duty would be to protect citizens of the United States from any attacks on our soil. But soon enough, he was shipped out to the South Pacific. He first engaged in combat against the Japanese at Guam in 1944 and then later at Iwo Jima.  
Williams is scheduled to be the guest speaker June 6 at the 75th Anniversary D-Day Bravo Zulu Celebration at the Louisville Memorial Auditorium. Honor Flight Bluegrass, led by Jeff Thoke of Trimble County, Ky., is sponsoring the event, which is designed to provide a reunion for World War II veterans and their families as well as a thank all veterans.
“Bravo Zulu means ‘Thanks for a job well done.’ ” Thoke said.
The 6:30 p.m. event is open to the public for $10 each and will feature a tribute to all World War II veterans, with emcee Heather French Henry and Rachel Platt. Entertainment will be provided by the Ladies of Liberty singing group and the Don Krekel Orchestra. Williams will speak, followed by a meet and greet with the public.
Kelli Oakley, D-Day Event Chair, said, “Jeff Thoke is so engaged with World War II veterans. He wanted to do something for those World War II veterans who are not able to make the Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.  This D-Day Celebration is a flight-less Honor Flight.  We want to bring honor to our veterans locally.”

Photo provided

Herschel “Woody” Williams fought as a marine at Guam and Iwo Jima in World War II.

Part of that honor is hearing from Williams, a fellow veteran. “I am anything but a hero,” Williams said. “Those who paid with their life are the true heroes.”
When he returned home, he dedicated his life to service. He spent an additional 17 years in the Marine Reserves. He also served for 33 years as a counselor for Veterans Affairs. “It was the best job in the world.”
He said he has never forgotten his war experiences and his responsibility to represent the soldiers who did not return. 
His staunch resolve had carried him through that battle at Iwo Jima. Within two days of landing on the volcanic island, he was the only flamethrower still alive. On Feb. 23, 1945, he endured four hours of fierce fighting. He was alone behind the Japanese enemy lines, covered only by four riflemen. His efforts changed the course of the battle because tanks and troops were able to finally penetrate the heavily fortified island. The battle continued into March when Williams was injured by shrapnel on March 6.
His efforts were recognized when President Harry S. Truman awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor on Oct. 5, 1945. He also received a Purple Heart for his injuries. All of those events continued to fuel his resolve to recognize, honor and support Gold Star families who have lost a family member in the service of the country. In 2010, Williams and his family established the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Williams’ passion is building a monument to Gold Star Families in every state in the Union. “I want to give those families a place to go and reflect and know they have not been forgotten,” he said.
He speaks fervently about the importance of ensuring that each individual who died for our freedom is forever memorialized in area communities. Gold Star mother Georgie Carter-Krell explained, “Dying for freedom is not the worst thing that can happen. Being forgotten is.” Her son, PFC Bruce W. Carter, received the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1969 for his heroism in the Vietnam War.
Forty-seven monuments have already been completed in 42 states, with 59 currently in progress. In Indiana, there is a completed Gold Star monument in Lafayette. Two more are in progress: Dyer and Indianapolis. In Kentucky, there are three completed Gold Star monuments located in Greenup County, Fort Knox-Hardin County and Lexington. Two additional Kentucky monuments are in progress: the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North in Williamstown and one in Crestwood.
“I have said that I will attempt to attend every dedication of a monument,” Williams said. “So far I have been able to do that.”
He keeps a full travel schedule in spite of his age, speaking to community groups, youths and veterans. He always points out that it is not just the parents or spouse that is grieving after the loss of a soldier. It is the whole family, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends who are devastated by each loss. Speaking of the families at the monument dedications, Williams said,
“It is very emotional, and I think a little bit amazing to them. Now they have something that represents the sacrifice of those families that has never existed in our country before.”   
The foundation also provides scholarships for Gold Star family members. His message never changes:  remember, honor and support Gold Star families for the sacrifices they have endured for the freedoms we enjoy every day as Americans. He still remembers his meeting with the Commandant of the Marines in 1945 after he had received his Medal of Honor. “I was told that this medal doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to all those Marines who never came home.”
More than 5,900 Marines died on Iwo Jima, representing one third of all Marines killed during World War II. Two of the four riflemen who covered Williams during his harrowing actions to eliminate the enemy machine-gun pillboxes were among those Marines who never came home. 
The “Medal of Honor Wall of Memory” is another project Williams has initiated. It was his vision to honor and pay tribute to Medal of Honor recipients in local communities by displaying a dedication wall in the Veterans Administration medical centers in each state.
“The Medal of Honor gave me extra incentive to live the fullest life possible and be the best version of myself that I could be.”
Williams points out that we still have great individuals who are willing to go into battle and, if necessary, sacrifice their life. “They make sacrifices for people they don’t even know. Individuals in the fire departments and law enforcement also put their lives on the line every day. Each day, when they leave home, they don’t know if they will return that evening.”

Williams said the challenges of those first responders may be more stressful than his war experiences because he knew what he was facing. In everything he does, Williams message remains: “Everyone is here because someone gave their life so you could be free.”

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