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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va, on Wednesday delivered remarks on the Senate floor to commemorate the life of West Virginia native Hershel “Woody” Williams, and celebrate his legacy as the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.
Below is a transcript of Senator Capito’s full speech, as prepared for delivery:
“I rise today to honor and celebrate the life and legacy of an American hero, and proud son of West Virginia.
“On June 29th,Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, passed away at the age of 98.
“And tomorrow, rightfully, he will become just the seventh American and first West Virginian to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
“It’s a well-deserved recognition for a man from humble beginnings.
“The youngest of eleven children, Woody’s acts of heroism would eventually help the United States capture the pivotal island of Iwo Jima, a world away from the dairy farm he was raised on in the town of Quiet Dell, West Virginia.
“Many Americans recognize the iconic image of our soldiers raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi.
“It evokes an overwhelming sense of pride, of patriotism, of triumph.
“On the same day that iconic photo was taken, February 23, 1945, a young Marine Corporal by the name of Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams was on that same island, risking his life for our freedom.
“That day, under hours of constant fire, Woody, who was a member of the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Division, alone stormed multiple enemy pillboxes, with limited cover, neutralizing one after another, saving countless American lives behind him.
“He went on to fight throughout the entire five-week campaign on Iwo Jima until our forces finally took the Japanese stronghold, marking a key turning point for the Allied cause.
“His actions that day, and throughout the war, are the reason why when West Virginians think of the Greatest Generation, we often think of Woody Williams.
“But, what set Woody apart was more than those acts of valor on the battlefield.
“It was what he did, and how he carried himself, in the more than 75 years since the Second World War.
“Through the Hershel Woody Williams Foundation, he advocated for Gold Star families and worked to ensure the memories of loved ones lost would live on forever.
“To date, Woody and his foundation installed 104 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments across the United States with about 70 additional monuments underway in every state.
“Through public appearances and his seemingly unending energy and passion, Woody shared his story with the world.
“His mission was to inspire those, especially younger Americans, to answer that same call to service that he did as a teenage boy.
“As he said years later: ‘The people today need to remember if we ever lose our freedom, we will never be able to regain it.’
“There’s no doubt in my mind that because of Woody, there are more people who answered the call and chose to serve the United States in some way, shape, or form.
“What an incredible legacy to leave.
“He also never forgot his fellow veterans, serving as a Veterans Service Representative for 33 years at the VA.
“And, I’m proud that legacy of care lives on at the Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams VA Medical Center outside of Huntington, West Virginia.
“And, Woody did all of it with the same trademark humility we came to know and love about him.
“For example, several years after President Truman awarded him the Medal of Honor, Woody said he remembers asking himself in that moment: ‘Why was I selected to receive our nation’s highest award when Marines right beside me didn’t get home?’
“That tells you everything you need to know about the man Woody Williams was, always putting his country first and never concerned with who got the credit.
“I count it among my life’s greatest blessings that I was able to learn from, laugh with, and get to know him as a friend.
“So, tomorrow, as we honor a great man and tell his story, Woody will still be doing what he did best: inspire.
“Here’s to a life well-lived and a country well-served, even long after he wore that Marine uniform he loved so dearly.
“Oorah, Woody. Rest peacefully.
“Thank you, and I yield the floor.”