By Fred Pace
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific Theater during World War II, today will see the christening of a ship that bears his name.
Williams, 94, of Ona, left West Virginia on Wednesday for San Diego, where the ceremony will take place, according to his grandson, Brent Casey.
“He went back to boot camp where he was 72 years ago and met with the commanding general for a walk-through,” Casey said. “He saw some training and spoke at a town hall event on Thursday. He also spoke to 200 to 225 homeless veterans at the Veterans Village of San Diego as part of the christening events.”
Casey said Williams will be joined by five of his fellow Medal of Honor recipients, fellow World War II veterans and four of the five living USS Arizona survivors from Pearl Harbor. The ceremony will take place at General Dynamics’ San Diego shipyard.
Construction on the ship started in October 2015, its keel was laid in August 2016 and General Dynamics NASSCO launched it exactly a year later, in August 2017.
In 1997, Williams’ friend and fellow veteran Ron Wroblewski toured ships in Little Creek Norfolk Naval Base and noticed that the ships were named in honor of U.S. Marine Medal of Honor recipients.
“Personally knowing Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, West Virginia’s only living Medal of Honor recipient from the battle of Iwo Jima and a U.S. Marine colleague, I thought it would be a great idea to have a U.S. Navy ship named in honor of Woody, a true hero,” Wroblewski said.
For more than 20 years, Wroblewski organized numerous military and veterans events where he collected signatures for a petition to name a ship after Williams.
“The U.S. Department of the Navy compiled the largest file they have ever received for the request to name a U.S. Navy ship,” he said. “The file contained over 70,000 signatures from 48 states.”
Eventually, Williams’ grandson got involved and made a few calls to Washington representatives and last January, the announcement was made by the secretary of the Navy.
Williams is scheduled to speak, and his daughters, Travie Ross and Tracie Ross, will christen the 784-foot-long ship at the event.
Maj. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of the 1st Marine Division, and Vice Adm. Dixon Smith, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, are also scheduled to make remarks.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will also attend the ceremony.
“I am so honored that my friend Woody invited me to the christening of his ship,” Manchin said. “Many years ago, Woody’s fellow Marines and friends started this effort, and I was honored to be called on to help in any way I could.
“Ron Wroblewski and Woody’s friends and family asked me to send a letter to (Navy) Secretary (Ray) Mabus recommending a Navy ship be named after Woody. After sending the letter and working with Secretary Mabus, I was thrilled when the Navy announced they would name a ship after Woody a few months later. This ship christening is a lifelong tribute to Woody’s brave actions and his dedication to public service, and I was honored to play a part in helping a fellow Marion County boy receive the recognition he deserves.”
According to NASSCO, the Williams ship is an expeditionary mobile base, or expeditionary sea base (ESB), vessel. It will support mine countermeasures, counter-piracy operations, maritime security and humanitarian missions.
The ship also will provide for accommodations for up to 250 personnel; offer a 52,000-square-foot flight deck, fuel and equipment storage; and will support helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft.
Delivery to the Navy is scheduled for early next year, according to NASSCO. The shipbuilder constructed and delivered the first ESB, named for Marine Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, two years ago.
Gates to the NASSCO shipyard will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, and the ceremony will start at 11 a.m., Wroblewski said.
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