Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, will lie in honor at the US Capitol.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the occasion, will be a tribute to Williams and all those who fought in World War II.
Williams died at age 98 on June 29 at West Virginia’s Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which was named in his honor in 2018.
“Woody Williams embodied the best of America: living a life of duty, honor and courage,” Pelosi wrote in a release issued Sunday. “When Woody lies in honor under the Capitol Dome, it will be with immense gratitude for his service that Congress will pay tribute to this legendary hero – and all of the patriots who fought for our nation in World War II.”
The release did not give a date for the event, noting it would happen when “upon the Congress’ return, in consultation with the family.” Congress is out until next week for the Fourth of July recess.
Williams served in the Marine Corps for 20 years and fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration for combat, by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 for his service.
“His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective,” his Medal of Honor citation said.
Honoring Gold Star families
Williams, the youngest of 11 children, was born on a dairy farm in 1923 in Quiet Dell, W. Va.
When World War II began, he delivered Western Union telegrams, informing families about the death of loved ones in battle. The experience motivated Williams to create the Woody Williams Foundation, which is responsible for creating 104 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments in the US, according to the foundation’s website. The foundation aims to raise public awareness and acknowledge those who sacrificed their lives in combat.
“Whether it was for his acts of bravery in combat or his tireless advocacy for all veterans and their families, Woody made our entire country, especially his fellow West Virginians, proud,” Schumer said in the release.
Out of 16 million people who served in World War II, about 240,000 were alive in 2021, according to the National WWII Museum. Those who fought in the conflict are at least in their 90s or older.
What does it mean to lie in honor?
Lying in honor is marked by the public display of an individual’s coffin in the US Capitol.
The occasion is similar to the distinction of lying in state. Lying in state is reserved for public servants employed by the government, while lying in honor is afforded to private citizens.
Only six individuals have been lain in honor at the Capitol with half of them honored in the last four years. Those who have lain in honor include Rosa Parks in 2005 and Rev. Billy Graham in 2018.
Visual explainer: What does it mean to lie in state?