Hershel Williams

Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams speaks Monday during the dedication of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Mansfield.

MANSFIELD -- Hershel "Woody" Williams was born and raised on a dairy farm in the small, unincorporated town of Quiet Dell, W.Va., a rural area near state Route 20.

The life of the diminutive man has been anything but quiet.

A U.S. Marine and the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the iconic World War battle on Iwo Jima in 1945, the 95-year-old Williams was back in Mansfield on Monday to dedicate the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in front of the Richland County Courthouse.

It's the 58th such monument across the country to families who have lost loved ones in the armed forces, including eight now in Ohio. His foundation helps to drive the creation of the memorials.

The black granite monument features two sides. One side bears the words: Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, a tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives who have sacrificed a Loved One for our Freedom.

The other side tells a story through four granite panels: homeland, family, patriot and sacrifice.

At the center of the tribute is a cut-out, which represents the missing family member and void left by the loved one who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Williams, a corporal who wielded a flame thrower on Iwo Jima and retired in 1969 as a chief warrant officer, said he has personally attended every dedication and has only missed about three groundbreakings for the monuments. 

"I have a slogan in our foundation, 'The cause is greater than I.' That's what drives me," Williams said before the dedication ceremony that attracted a large audience in front of the Richland County Courthouse and Administration Building, 50 Park Ave. East.

Gold Star memorial

The Mansfield Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is unveiled in front of the Richland County Courthouse on Monday.

Williams also attended the groundbreaking for the local monument in July.

"The Gold Star family members keep me going because they have never, in the history of our country, had any recognition for the sacrifices they have made," Williams said. "We don't understand that. I don't understand it yet today.

"We must do something in this country to recognize these families," said Williams, who was just 21 years old when he volunteered to go forward as the last flamethrower to try to quell devastating machine-gun fire from Japanese pillboxes on Iwo Jima.

"They gave more than any of us. They gave one of their own. You can't give more than that. That's what keeps me motivated," said Williams, who was initially rejected by the Marine Corps in 1943 due to its height requirement.

Williams said he would not miss these events. His goal is to have a Gold Star memorial in every state.

"I go to these places. I see Gold Star families here for the first time. They are coming together, getting together and recognizing each other for the first time. That's never happened in our country.

"They didn't even know they lived in the same community. Now, they are gathering together and they have something to share with each other that most of us cannot share ... because we never had that experience of losing one of our own in the armed forces of our country," Williams said.

"We are gathering momentum because people in these communities are recognizing for the first time these folks have just been forgotten. That's just something that's been expressed to me over and over by the Gold Star families. These memorials, these monuments, will assure their loved ones will never be forgotten," he said.

Richard Schuller

Richard Schuller performs "Amazing Grace" on Monday during the dedication of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Mansfield.

In his remarks during the ceremony, Williams said Mansfield and Richland County were making history.

"This memorial will be here from now on. It's not going to go away. It represents not only those of the past, and the present (but) the future.

"Naturally, we all have prayer in our hearts that wars will cease. But until they do, we are going to have the sacrifice of loved ones. We pray this memorial to those Gold Star families will be some form of comfort and peace and will continue to honor those who are lost so they will not ever be forgotten," Williams said.

One of the driving forces behind the local memorial is Jared Smith, chairman of the committee that planned the monument and raised the funds for its construction. The monument was built by Longstreth Memorials of Mansfield.

Smith is a 2001 graduate from Crestview High School, an Eagle Scout from Troop 214, who also participated in the Criminal Justice program at Pioneer Career and Technology Center. 

Jared Smith

Hershel "Woody" Williams and Jared Smith exchange a salute Monday after Williams made the Crestview High School graduate an honorary member of the Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.

Now a resident of Marietta, Smith entered the military from Mansfield and was inducted in 2010 to the Ohio Military Hall of Fame for Valor. He said his hope for the monument was to help veterans and Gold Star families heal.

Smith said a similar monument in Marietta "allowed a piece of my own brokenness to heal. We are very excited, honored and blessed to be able to be in a position to pay it forward with the donors that have helped us raise the funds to make this possible."

"Our committee has done a fantastic job. We appreciate the support of the community and everyone who made this happen," said Smith, who served as the master of ceremonies during the dedication.

The ceremony included choirs from Lexington and St. Peter high schools, and remarks from retired Army Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, director of the Ohio Dept. of Veterans Services, and Richland County Commissioner Darrell Banks.

It also featured a 21-gun salute from the Richland County Joint Veterans Council, "Amazing Grace" by Richard Schuller on bagpipes and "Taps" on the bugle by Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Raymond Hartsough.

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