Hershel "Woody" Williams was born in the country, he grew up in the country and now 95 years later you will still find him living the country life beyond the boundaries of town. He may rub elbows with presidents, congressmen and other dignitaries during the day, but he still sleeps with the critters of the forest just outside his window in the country at day's end.
Williams lives in a well-kept rural frame home surrounded by a pristine white fence with a well-manicured lawn. One side of the front yard flies the flag representing the country he loves and served. The opposite end flies the flag of the United States Marines; a modest home about 174 miles from the town of his birth and over seven thousand miles from the black sands on the island of Iwo Jima where he fought for his life while trying to survive the night in a cold damp foxhole for 34 of the 36 days of combat.
"There's something I want to do immediately upon reaching heaven's gate," said Williams. "I've got to ask God why my life was so richly blessed, that's the first thing I want to ask Him."
Williams was born at home on a dairy farm in the small community of Quite Dell, West Virginia, in Marion County seven miles outside the town of Fairmont. He was the youngest of 11 children who quickly learned the benefits of discipline, respect, hard work and responsibility. The sooner they adapted to those values the more pleasant their home life became.
"I was delivered with the help of a midwife named Murtle Cobin who was a neighbor with 13 children of her own," said Williams. "She helped my mother during her deliveries and mom would be there to help Cobin during the birth of her kids. Not a single doctor present for any of the births."
The Williams Dairy Farm had about 35 cows that were milked every morning and evening, twice a day - without exception. Children were assigned a cow to milk beginning at age 6 and as they grew, they were given the responsibility of milking additional cows. Daily deliveries to the town of Fairmont and residences were made using a T model Ford truck until the newer model A truck was purchased.
"All deliveries to homes were made in milk bottles," said Williams. "Cardboard milk containers were unheard of then. This meant there was a never ending need to clean the bottles for refill. My other question for God, when I meet Him, is why was it necessary to milk cows twice a day rather than just once. That would have allowed more time to shovel cow manure from the barn, tend to the sheep and do other chores."
According to Williams, their sheep community fluctuated between 40-50. The changing number was dependent on the demand for lamb chops in the high dollar big city restaurants. When the fall crops were all canned and put away, there was time for an occasional trip to town for a western and Williams had his favorites.
"All the good guys wore white hats," he said. "Some of my favorites were Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Ken Maynard. After the movie, you could get a hot dog and ice cream for a nickel apiece."
"Sheep had to be sheered every summer," he said. "This was another chore I hated because we didn't have electricity and the sheering machine needed someone to crank the handle that turned a drive cable connected to the sheering tool. Being the youngest, you can imagine who got that job."
Williams said they didn't have a radio and if they did there wouldn't be much time to sit around listening to it. Even Christmas was a busy day but he does remember a new pair of overalls for Christmas that were not hand-me-downs. He never had a fishing pole, never learned to swim until he was "helped" into the pool at boot camp. The only gun in the house was a 12 gauge shotgun that his dad used to kill animals that chased their sheep. Even black snakes were captured and turned loose in the barn where they controlled the mice population.
"We had plenty of designer feed sacks as a result of the animals we took care of," said Williams. "You couldn't make overalls out of a feed sack but Mom made everything else including dresses, shirts and even underwear. Boys slept three to a bed on feather tick mattresses. All we had was a fireplace for heat which wasn't enough. We'd heat up bricks in that fireplace during winter and take them to bed with us. Upstairs was always hotter in the summer and colder in winter. When we needed air conditioning, the windows were opened."
Water for the Williams farm was supplied by a spring up the hill that was gravity fed through a pipe to the house. The pipe was 30 inches deep to prevent freezing. The basement below had shelves surrounding the walls with bins of potatoes. There were also apples, grapes and peaches from their orchard and hundreds of canning jars full of produce from the garden. Even the butter on the table was homemade and it tasted better than anything in the grocery store.
"My father passed away when I was 11," said Williams. "My second oldest brother Lloyd Jr. took over control of the farm. Duty assignments were still assigned by age and for the most part the farm continued on. We were still a team only with a new leader."
Williams attended Quite Dell grade school that was a one-mile walk. Originally it had been a one room school that added another room allowing grades 1-4 in one room, grades 5-8 in the other.
"Miss. Nomia Morgan taught me more as a teacher than my parents ever had time to do," said Williams. "She taught me to respect the American Flag and love of this country, I will never forget her."
Williams dropped out of Fairmont High School and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He repaired roads, constructed fences, retaining walls and pathways at state parks in Montana. He was paid $30 a month and sent $10 home to his mother.
"After the CCC, I joined the Marines because their uniforms looked better than the Army," said Williams. "Girls liked the Marine Corp uniforms better too."
After attending marine boot camp in San Diego, California, Williams traveled 48 miles down the road to Camp Pendleton for infantry training, where he adapted well to boot camp without problems. Next, he sailed to New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Guam and finally Iwo Jima - an island with over 20,000 Japanese ready to die rather than face family shame.
"Between the fighting and bombing I lived in a fox hole for 34 days on that island," said Williams. "There were only 300 or so captured out of some 22,000 Japanese, the rest were casualties of war or committed suicide."
Williams married Ruby Meredith, who he met in a taxi cab in Fairmont, West Virginia, in 1943. They were married October 19, 1945, in Fairmont. Their marriage lasted for 62 years before Ruby passed away in 2007. They have two daughters, five grandsons and two great grandsons.
Williams' heroic actions under fire would earn him the Medal of Honor awarded by President Truman, his Purple Heart and a litany of other decorations are all recorded history. His latest endeavor now is having a Gold Star Family Monument in every state and many communities.
"One of my duties as a cab driver was delivering Western Union death notices to families that lost loved ones in battle," said Williams. "I have always believed it shouldn't end with a telegram. Gold Star Monuments are a way to recognize families for the sacrifice their loved ones made. The first GSM was dedicated in Dunbar, West Virginia, Veteran's Cemetery in 2013. We hope to have one on the Capital Grounds in Charleston by October this year. There are now 47 GSM honoring Gold Star Families in 42 states and 61 more in process throughout America."
Tax deductible donations can be made on line for Gold Star Monuments at the Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Clyde Beal seeks out interesting stories from folks around the Tri-State. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.