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Medal of Honor Hall opens at Beckley VA Medical Center

By JORDAN NELSON

The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Wooden painted plaques representing the Army, Navy and Air Force line the walls of the new Medal of Honor Hall at the Beckley VA Medical Center, along with the names of 13 Medal of Honor recipients from southern West Virginia and a U.S. flag.

It is not just any ordinary flag hanging on the brand new white walls of the hall, but a flag donated by Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, given to him by U.S. representatives. He said that flag is now in its rightful place.

“Why me?” Williams asked Saturday during a grand opening for the hall. “This isn’t about me. This is about the 13 other recipients of the Medal of Honor that are not here to enjoy all of this.”

Former service member Bill Burdette, whose father was a veteran of World War II, walks with finance Beverly Gulliver as they browse plaques of 13 West Virginia servicemen who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor at the Beckley VA Medical Center.
(Register-Herald photo by Brad Davis)

Williams said all of the names lining the walls of the hall are names of those who had to go above and beyond the call of duty.

“I never quite understood what that meant,” he said. “But they were just doing their jobs, just like all of you do your jobs.

“A moment in time in which these guys had no control, a happening took place for them. And they were there in those moments, and because they were there they did something perhaps a little unusual.”

Williams explained it was not the actual recipients themselves who thought they were worthy of a Medal of Honor, but their friends deeming them fit for the position.

“They all thought each one of these individuals did something extraordinary, and they did,” he said.

Stacy Vasquez, Beckley VA Medical Center director, said the 13 service members being honored in the hall made selfless contributions to the great U.S. nation. “They are truly all such great heroes,” she said.

“I know that my staff feels the same way, and the reason I know that is because my staff is responsible for the construction, design and coordination for this hall,” she said. “We all worked together to bring in something for those who have made such a tremendous contribution for us.”

Forty-four veterans of southern West Virginia have received the Medal of Honor.

“And today we honor 13 of those men, all from 11 counties in our state,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said as a veteran herself she is aware that in the moment the 13 men did what they did to receive the award, it had to have been one of the most devastating days in history for each one of them.

“All of them endured great loss, and they carry horrific memories throughout their lives,” she said.

“The Medal of Honor may not feel like an award of happiness that many people experience when they use the word ‘award,’ but the acts they completed to advance the ideals of our great nation are nothing short of remarkable.”

Vasquez said each one of the brave men experienced fear, injury and unimaginable odds. “But somehow they were able to summon the strength to complete the most remarkable acts under fire.

“And that is why we are doing what we are doing today,” she said. “It is fitting that we memorialize each of them with a hall of honor in our community.”

Williams said the day he received a Medal of Honor, his life took on a whole new meaning.

“I was now a representative of those who never got to come home,” he said.

“If these men could speak to us today, then I know they would no doubt be asking themselves the same question that I’ve asked myself: Why me?”

During the six wars in which Americans have fought, and from the millions who have served, 3,497 Medals of Honor have been presented, Williams said. “Today, of that large number, 72 of us still survive,” he said.

“Of the several medals awarded, loved ones were left behind. The recipients themselves were not able to receive the honor.”

Williams said the honor and tribute the hall represents tells the area those service men will not be forgotten.

“It says to them we should not forget, and we will not forget,” he said.

A representative for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, attended the Medal of Honor Hall grand opening, along with Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“First things first,” Jenkins said. “I just really want to thank our veterans.”

Jenkins said when Williams asked, “Why me?” he had a thought.

“Well, Woody, you might ask why, but I am a firm believer God has a plan for each and every one of us. And you put your trust in God, with always trying to do the right thing.

“So this question of ‘Why?’ well, this was God’s plan, Woody,” Jenkins said. “You’re working the plan, and we really appreciate you.”

He said West Virginians are special people who care deeply about their faith and country. “And today they show that with this hall.”

“Today, as in the past, the VA Medical Center in Beckley is a place to learn, remember and honor. And that wall will be a powerful tool in the mission to not only love and care for our veterans, but educating all about heroism and our heroes. This is a learning place. It is a healing place.”

Capito said the grand opening of the hall was one of the most moving ceremonies she had ever attended.

“This wall in the hall is unbelievable,” she said. “There are great things at work here.”

Capito said of all the heroes honored, they were all brothers, sons, fathers, uncles or grandsons. “So it’s not just them,” she said. “It’s all of us, and I want to thank all of them for what they have done along with their families that are here today that also honor their families, their West Virginians and their sacrifices.”

Williams said the hall has taken his breath away. “What has been accomplished by the staff in this medical center is absolutely remarkable. It’s unreal. They did it all. What a fantastic view we see while looking at this in honor and remembrance of these heroes.”

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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