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U.S. Senator Manchin speaks on life and legacy of Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient

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Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, on Wednesday spoke on the U.S. Senate Floor on the life and legacy of Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient. 

Senator Manchin’s remarks as prepared:

M. President, I rise today to speak on the life and legacy of my dear friend, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor Recipient, West Virginian and one of the last of the Greatest Generation – Woody Williams of Quiet Dell, West Virginia.

Before I begin today I want to recognize members of Woody’s family who is here with us today in the gallery. They are the legacy he was most proud of and I am honored to welcome them to the Senate chamber today.

We are here today to respect Woody’s wishes of honoring all Veterans and their families, and to pay respects to our nation’s last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient.

It has been 77 years since Woody quieted those enemy machine guns on the sands of Iwo Jima, and while he is now sadly gone, the ideals that he lived by are not: love of his family, his friends and his faith; and service to country above self.

General George S. Patton once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

Woody lived every day as if he were given a second chance and we are all so much better for it.

And boy did Woody live for a long time. His grandson, Brent Casey, passed along Woody’s recipe for a long life.

He would say when asked, “It’s Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, and it has to have the ‘mother’, you know the cloudy stuff in the bottom of the bottle, mixed with LOCAL honey, and 6 ounces of warm water. You can add some PURE maple syrup for extra flavoring if you’d like. I’ve been drinking it every morning since the early 1960s.”

About three years ago, he got it printed on business cards because he was too tired of reciting it every time someone asked. And he handed out quite a few of those cards too.

One of my favorite Woody quotes is one that he cited when his great-grandson Cedar graduated from Marine Boot Camp.

When Woody was asked what it meant to be a Marine, he said, ‘By taking that oath you can take my life, but you cannot take my country or my freedom.’

You cannot take my country or my freedom: that is Woody Williams.

During the ceremony in West Virginia last weekend, Woody’s grandson, Chad said we must remember what Woody taught us.

There are few things in this world that we can do alone. It is only through the support of others, that we can truly reach our goals.

So look to your left and look to right, we are all a part of his legacy and it is up to us to carry that forward.

In the words of Woody, “The Cause is Greater than I”

One of Woody’s last wishes was lying in state at the United States Capitol, not for himself, but to represent all Medal of Honor recipients of World War II. 

Tomorrow, that the West Virginia farm boy from Quiet Dell will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, laying to rest the sacrifices of a generation of heroes.

Woody can rest in peace knowing his mission is complete.

I will miss Woody because he was my wingman, or maybe more accurately, I was his wingman.

Woody always had a project for everyone around him.

As his grandson, Bryan Casey, said, “If you met with Woody, you know he always had a project for everyone. He would magically produce napkins and sharpies with his projects – typically with him diagraming the project while we watched a listened. They were not always unused napkins but they always became works of art.”

Woody came to me a few years ago and said that we needed to help the Gold Star Families in West Virginia and across the country – so we started a motorcycle ride for Fallen Service Heroes.

We did six of these rides and Woody is in his 90’s.  But there he was, every time, in the blazing heat in his slingshot.

Along the ride, we had a little fun, but in true Woody fashion, we did a lot of good.

We raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Gold Star Families.

Some of those funds went into monuments across the nation, including the one that sits at the Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia.

I know how many good things Woody and I worked on together. If you multiplied that by all the other people he worked with, you will fully realize Woody’s incredible impact on West Virginia and the entire country.

That’s why he’s got a ship, a VA hospital, and a National Guard Reserve Center named after him!

Most recently, because of Woody, our VA medical centers were saved. His testimony ended the AIR Commission, which would have turned 3 of our 4 WV VA Medical Centers into urgent care centers, as well as countless others across the nation.

Every Veteran in the nation can thank Woody for saving their VA Hospital.

Woody was with me when I was Governor and helped so much as we stood up the Cabinet Secretary for Veterans Affairs

Then, he was the Founding Member of my Senate Veterans Advisory Group, where he led efforts to clean up the Clarksburg and Beckley VAMCs.

He helped get the first Fisher House in West Virginia at the Huntington VA, a place that I know gave so much solace to his family.

Woody has been there every step of the way, from making sure that families of the Fallen received death gratuities during government shut downs to naming August 1st as Gold Star Children’s Day.

It is also amazing that so many people, from all across the nation, in each of our states that we represent in this great deliberative body, have so many good things to say about Woody. 

I didn’t realize the magnitude of Woody’s impact until I traveled with him to California and Virginia for his ship commissioning and christening.

I’m there, and I have all these people coming to me, telling me how Woody impacted them, or how much they admired him.

I will always remember this one general telling me how they studied Woody Williams in the Marine Corps.

When Marines learn how to be Marines, they learn about Woody Williams.

I always knew West Virginia had a treasure in Woody, but what I didn’t know is that he was their treasure, too.

I will forever be thankful that Woody and his family gave me the gift of spending time with him at the Huntington VA the Sunday morning before he passed.

He was so special that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough, talked to him on the phone for a few minutes and thanked him for his lifelong dedication and advocacy for Veterans.

This phone call tickled Woody so much.

In his final days, he stayed the same as I always knew him: quick-as-a-whip, kind, selfless, and concerned for his fellow Veterans and their families.

It is a moment that I will cherish for the rest of my days.

But, in true Woody fashion, he gave me marching orders.

One of his last wishes was enclosing the committal shelter at the Donel C. Kinnard Veterans Cemetery, so that families would be protected from the elements when paying their final respects. 

But of course, this project was bigger than just West Virginia for Woody – it will probably lead to a national effort to enclose committal shelters.

I can promise you this; my colleague Senator Capito and I will make sure to get this done.

As President Biden said upon Woody’s passing, “I don’t throw the word hero around lightly, but if I’m going to use it, I’d use it for a guy like Woody Williams…Heroism – like it did for Woody – can come in all different shapes and sizes.”

Woody Williams was far more than just a hero: he was the greatest of the greatest generation, and a model for future generations.

From what I know, Woody’s greatest wish was for all of us to continue his mission: to give back to each other and to love our country.

As his grandson Bryan said last week, “I have the project that he (Woody) wants each of you to work on. A couple of them actually.” And today, I will ask each of you to work on these projects too.

If Gold Star Families in your area are traveling more than an hour to one of the Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments, they are traveling too far – your project is to get a project working in your back yard.

If you have a monument in your area – your project is to ensure the legacy that Woody help create by working to recognize these families – become part of that project, become part of the process to bring people back to that monument – lest we never forget these Gold Star Families.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Woody Williams and all of our Veterans of World War II this evening and tomorrow, let us all do our best to continue his mission.

May God rest the soul of our dear friend, our leader, our national hero – Woody Williams.

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