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Subdeacon Joe

Another WWII MoH Minute

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Hershel Williams


Growing up on a dairy farm in West Virginia, Hershel Williams was originally turned away from joining the military for reportedly being too short. And while Medal of Honor recipients are typically known to be humble characters, this would have been the one case where it was perfectly acceptable to locate the recruiters who rejected him just to watch them salute his medal.



Serving as Demolition Sergeant for 1st Battalion 21st Marines, Williams jumped into action when a group of tanks were trying to open up a lane for the infantry.  Utilizing his unique skill set, and perhaps even his small stature, Williams set out alone on multiple occasions to clear reinforced pillboxes with his flamethrower.

Returning back to the line time and time again to set demolition charges and pick up a serviceable flamethrower, Williams continued to go back out into the fray and gift heat to the Japanese enemy.

Marines_burrow_in_the_volcanic_sand_on_the_beach_of_Iwo_Jima Iwo Jima

On one such trip, Williams actually came upon the air vent for one such defensive position that was terrorizing allied troops.  Mounting the Japanese pillbox by himself, he inserted the nozzle of this flamethrower into the air vent and destroyed the enemy gun position.

And when the enemy with bayonets fixed tried to stop him, Williams took them on head on and ended their war with a burst of flames.  A remarkable feat considering that the flamethrower was so feared, it was often the first target of enemy infantry.

The Future

While the future would go on to say that the flamethrower was too cruel a weapon to remain a mainstay of modern warfare, for those who fought in World War 2 it was more a matter of survival on a global scale.  Hershel Williams ensured the survival of his fellow Marines by wielding one of the harshest weapons of warfare with unparalleled proficiency.


Medal of Honor Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as demolition sergeant serving with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 23 February 1945.

Quick to volunteer his services when our tanks were maneuvering vainly to open a lane for the infantry through the network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands, Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machinegun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out 1 position after another.

On 1 occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.

His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective.

Cpl. Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

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