State Funeral for "Woody" Williams Last WWII Medal of Honor Recipient


During World War II, 473 men received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service. The last of these men, Herschel "Woody" Williams, 98, of West Virginia, died on June 29, 2022. He will be awarded another great honor by lying in state at the U S Capital, this Thursday, July 14, as a final salute to the 16 million men and women who served in the Armed Forces from 1941-1945.

John M. Galer, State Chairman for Illinois for State Funeral for World War II Veterans explained that the group began its efforts on Labor Day of 2017. "Then there were only four living MOH heroes from the Second World War," Galer said. "The death of the final hero, U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Herschel "Woody" Williams, is the perfect opportunity for a grateful nation to provide a final salute to those whom journalist Tom Brokaw called 'the Greatest Generation.'"

No enlisted service person has ever been offered a State Funeral.  "This was the cornerstone of our effort at State Funeral for World War II veterans," Galer explained. General Douglas MacArthur received the Medal of Honor for his heroic defense of the Bataan Peninsula at the start of WWII. The Supreme Allied Commander in the Pacific received a State Funeral in Washington in 1964. "We always believed that an enlisted man, who actually fought on the front lines and who was awarded a Medal of Honor, should receive the same," Galer said.

Today 35 million American families claim a parent, grandparent, or close family member among those who defeated Nazism, Imperialism, and Fascism to give us the world we enjoy today. There were 22 men who received the Medal of Honor from Illinois during the Second World War.

The day the Marines raised the flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, Woody Williams was busy destroying seven Japanese pillboxes using only his flamethrower on that island.  Two of his four fellow Leathernecks providing him with cover fire were killed during the four-hour long battle.  

Woody wasn't just a hero in uniform, he and his family foundation conceived, created and placed 104 Gold Star Monuments in all 50 states to honor the families who lost a loved one in combat or military service.  "Today, in Illinois and in every state, these beautiful black granite monuments are a lasting reminder that freedom is not free and has to be earned by each generation,"  Galer explained.

The idea for a State Funeral for the last Medal of Honor hero from World War II came from a junior high student, Rabel McNutt. Her godfather, Walter "Walt" Ehlers, was a holder of the Medal of Honor for his actions in Normandy in June 1944. To prepare for attending his funeral, she and her dad, Lee William "Bill" McNutt, watched State Funerals on YouTube. Rabel said, "Daddy, let's get them to do a big funeral in Washington D.C., for Uncle (Walter) Ehlers' friends."  As fate would have it, Walt Ehlers and Woody Williams were best friends and attended over 100 Medal of Honor events together.  Bill McNutt now serves as National Chairman of the organization. 

The success of State Chairmen in securing support for a state funeral from the 16 State Legislatures who passed resolutions, state Governor's Proclamations, the American Legion, who unanimously supported this at their 100th convention, the National World War II Museum, the National Medal of Honor Museum, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Marine Corps League, and many other patriotic groups helped make the idea created by Rabel McNutt a reality, Galer explained.

"Here in Illinois, the Senate and House passed SJR029 a joint resolution in support of a state funeral for the last Medal of Honor recipient this spring.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on May 19 wrote in a letter urging the state funeral stated, "By honoring Mr. Williams with a state funeral, you would in turn allow for the nation to reflect on and commemorate the resolve of those who fought alongside him in Europe and the Pacific, and who offered immeasurable support back home in the United States. More than ever, it's crucial for us to stand together in recognition of the sacrifice, courage and patriotism that shaped the nation we call home today." Both were sent to President Biden and congressional leaders," Galer stated. "I'm very grateful for their support."

Only about 300,000 of the 16 million men and women who wore our nation's uniform during WWII are still with us. "Soon there will be no one living to tell us what it was like to have fought on Omaha Beach, the sands of Iwo Jima, or survived the Bataan Death March.  Our nation will be poorer for it," Galer said.

"As Woody Williams' coffin is carried on a horse-drawn caisson from our Nation's Capital to the World War II Memorial Thursday, let's pause as one America to honor him, and also honor the Greatest Generation," Galer stated.

Illinois State Chairman John M. Galer, makes his home in Hillsboro, Ill. He is the owner of The Journal-News in Hillsboro and nine other newspapers in Central Illinois, including the Staunton Star-Times. He has had a long career working in community newspapers and is the vice-chairman of the National Newspaper Association.  He can be reached at 217-710-7319 or email at [email protected].


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