97-Year-Old WWII Veteran and Oldest Living Medal of Honor Recipient is Still a Flamethrower Expert

Image Credit: Hershel Woodrow Williams / WGN9

On June 6, a one-of-a-kind Military and Veterans Appreciation Picnic was hosted at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington, West Virginia.

The celebrations grew into a proud exhibition of old-school World War II-era weapons — including a flamethrower — overseen by none other than Hershel “Woody” Williams, the world’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient.

Hershel Woodrow Williams, also known as Woody, was born in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, in 1923.

When the war broke out when Woody was a young man, he wanted to join the Marines right away, but not for the reasons you might assume. Woody was particularly taken by the Marines’ distinctive blue uniforms.

According to reports, he believed the brown Army uniform was “the ugliest thing in town” and opted to wait until the navy-clad Devil Dogs embraced him. Woody was initially unable to enlist due to his modest stature of 5’6′′, but after height restrictions were relaxed in 1943, he was able to do so.

Woody was trained as a demolition man in the Marines, specializing in the use of flamethrowers. That training, however, was not particularly hands-on; the veteran has recounted learning about the intricacies of a flamethrower — diesel tanks, aviation gas, and compressed air — but what about actually using the weapon? In 2020, he told The Washington Post, “We had to learn that ourselves.”

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Those lethal skills, however, were put to the test at the Battle of Iwo Jima. Woody and his fellow Americans were engulfed by machine gunfire as they landed on the beach with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines.

Woody soldiered on as every man with him died, shoving his trusty flamethrower into the German pillbox, killing everyone. Woody then refueled five times and continued on his mission to destroy all opposing pillboxes. The survivor was able to see the historic raising of the two flags on Mount Suribachi from a thousand yards away that day.

On October 5, 1945, President Harry Truman presented Woody with the Medal of Honor. The retired United States Marine Corps warrant officer is now the oldest and only living Medal of Honor recipient from WWII.

Last weekend’s Military and Veterans Appreciation Picnic in West Virginia provided the ideal opportunity for Woody, the legendary World War II Marine Corps veteran, to demonstrate that he still knows what he’s talking about.

The 97-year-old fired fully automatic and single-shot shots across the Ohio River in front of a stunned audience. Woody then assisted Flamethrower expert Charles Hobson in spreading those intense blazes of fire over the river. Here’s a link to the complete video.

Watch the video:

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