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Last WWII Medal of Honor recipient to lie in honor at U.S. Capitol

Last WWII Medal of Honor recipient to lie in honor at U.S. Capitol
A state memorial service for Hershel W. "Woody" Williams was held Sunday in West Virginia's capital of Charleston. Photo courtesy of Sen. Joe Manchin/Twitter

July 4 (UPI) -- Hershel W. "Woody" Williams, the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and Schumer, D-N.Y., made the announcement Sunday in a statement, saying the gesture is a tribute not only to Williams but to all who fought in the war.

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"Woody Williams embodied the best of America: living a life of duty, honor and courage," Pelosi said. "When Woody lies in honor under the Capitol Dome, it will be with immense gratitude for his service that the Congress will pay tribute to this legendary hero -- and all of the patriots who fought for our nation in World War II."

Details concerning the proceedings will be announced late, the democratic pair said.

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Williams died Wednesday at the age of 98, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed in a statement last week.

"This is only a small tribute to someone who has made as impactful contributions to America as Woody and all our brave soldiers who fought against tyranny and defended our country in World War II," Schumer said. "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."

The West Virginia native was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest decoration for combat service, on Oct. 5, 1945, by then-President Harry S. Truman at the White House for his actions on Feb. 23 of that year during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

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According to his citation, Williams, under the cover of four riflemen, fought alone for four hours against heavy enemy small-arms fire, taking out pillboxes from which Japanese troops were unleashing "devastating machine-gun fire."

"His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended strongpoints encountered by his regiment and aided vitally in enabling his company to reach its objective," it said.

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After the war, Williams remained in the Marines for two decades before working at the Department of Veterans Affairs for another 33 years. He also established the Woody Williams Foundation, which strives to honor Gold Star families who have lost loved ones in the live of service.

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According to the foundation's website, it has established 104 Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments nationwide with more than 70 others underway.

During a state memorial service for Williams held Sunday in West Virginia's capital of Charleston, Sen. Joe Manchin said the foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and that it will continue in his absence "because Woody come after me in a heartbeat" if it didn't.

Manchin also said that Williams had told him that one of his last wishes was that he wanted the final remaining medal of honor recipient from World War II -- whether that be him or someone else -- to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda out of respect for the Greatest Generation.

"A life well lived is a life that can share with all of us and he shared every minute of his life with us," he said.

Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the attendees that Williams thought of others over himself and that he was the "most genuine person" he had ever met.

He said Williams had a way of combining his humility with a powerful sense of humor that allowed him the ability to connect with anyone.

"It was amazing. He could make you laugh, but I would argue he could make you care," he said. "And that was his gift. And I think that's what we'll miss the most."

Berger added that Williams' legacy as a Marine will continue and that his humor, bravery and selfless exemplifies "the best virtues of this nation.

"His enduring contributions ... to our heritage, I think they have left an indelible mark on the legacy of our Marine corps," he said. "His legacy is yours and mine -- it's our legacy. And as long as there are Marines his legacy will live on."

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