7:50 | Hershel had seen a diagram aboard ship of the island of Iwo Jima; the basic layout and where the airfield was. Coming ashore the third day, his unit was stalled by a group of pillboxes blocking the way. His commander asked him if he could take some of them out with the flamethrower. What he did then resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor.
Keywords : Hershel Woody Williams Iwo Jima steak and eggs Higgins Boat 4th Marine Regiment Mount Suribachi tunnel pillbox airfield flamethrower
Hershel "Woody" Williams grew up on a dairy farm in West Virginia. No one in his family had yet served, but he knew he wanted to be a Marine. The dress blues worn by Marines on leave were mighty attractive, perhaps something on the minds of Marine commanders.
His older brother had joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was not far from home. As soon as he was sixteen, Hershel Williams signed up, too, but he wound up in Montana, fencing in range land. He was there when Pearl Harbor was attacked and many of the boys who were of age went right into the Army. Hershel had to wait, which was fine because he wanted the Marines.
Hershel Williams had no trouble in boot camp, thanks to the upbringing by his no nonsense father. He did have trouble realizing he may have to actually kill someone else. Later, in combat, he would come up with a way to get past this. His training wrapped up at Camp Pendleton where he nearly missed shipping out with his unit.
The ship was crowded and hot. Marine Hershel Williams was headed to a destination unknown in the Pacific and he had worked out a system with his girlfriend to get past the censorship of letters home. When he learned the names of his first two destinations, he knew he was going to be writing some long letters.
The first stop for the new Marines was New Caledonia. They were only in transit so they had some free time and Hershel Williams and some buddies decided to go to the beach and get a coconut. Bad idea.
On a secured Guadalcanal, Marine Corporal Hershel Williams was selected to be a flamethrower and demolition operator. When the weapon was unpacked, it was a big mystery, but through trial and error, an effective method of use was devised. The results were deadly.
His gunnery sergeant was named Albert Daniel Hemphill. Hershel Williams remembers him as a "China Marine." They were a different breed and this story about a drunken leave in China comes straight from the source.
The flamethrowers were useless on Guam. There were no caves and pillboxes to speak of, just deep jungle. Hershel Williams set them aside after two days and got an M-1. Also, there were frogs, really big frogs.
What did Hershel Williams learn from his first combat experience on the island of Guam? His answer is thoughtful, but he is not so sure what to think about the Japanese code of honor that leads to Banzai charges and suicidal attacks.
Hershel Williams was wounded, but he refused to move to the rear on Iwo Jima. Once he saw that his friend Vernon Waters had been killed, there was no way.
He was preparing to cross the airfield on Iwo Jima when Hershel Williams heard Marines yelling. He looked up and joined in what would become an iconic moment, the raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi.
He had been designated to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on Iwo Jima, but Hershel Williams had never read the reports or seen the citation. Since he had no memory of that fateful day, when he stood before the president, he was still unsure why he was there.
When Hershel Williams returned to Iwo Jima decades after the fierce battle, he carried a special flag taken as a souvenir. There was one Japanese visitor on the trip, a wheelchair bound veteran who had been captured there, disgracing himself by surviving. Could he help return the flag to a suitable place?
There are plenty of memorials to the brave service members who sacrificed their lives to win the war. But Hershel Williams was always bothered that there was little recognition of the families who sacrificed their loved ones. So he began to correct the situation.
Just weeks off the ship, Jim Murphy was in a jeep driving his forward observer team up the Rhone Valley. At Barr in France, his lieutenant was killed. Along with the sergeant on the team, they fulfilled their mission for the rest of the war.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Forward observer Jim Murphy was alone in an outpost on Christmas in 1944, watching a German outpost where they were watching him. A runner brought him some hot food, which he greatly appreciated but, later that night, he became severely ill. It was not the food.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Jim Murphy was seventeen years old when the radio brought the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Since he enjoyed ROTC in high school, he was an enthusiastic member when he went off to Georgia Tech, where recruits were promised they would graduate and receive a commission. Of course, it didn't work out that way and he was off to active duty, where he managed to conceal something that would have ended his enlistment.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
It was a former luxury liner but the Atlantic crossing was anything but luxurious. Jim Murphy had something in his duffel bag to help fight the boredom and he wound up entertaining the whole ship with it. He was also one of the lucky ones who wasn't seasick.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
His unit was moving fast at the end of the war and Jim Murphy wound up in Austria. He didn't have nearly enough points for discharge, so he returned to the States to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Then came the news that seemed like a miracle from heaven.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
Jim Murphy was lucky to grow up at the Masonic Home of Georgia, an orphanage near Macon. He was not one of the orphans, rather his father worked there as a printer, running the print shop and teaching the trade. There was a farm for food, a nice thing to have during the Great Depression.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Jim Murphy describes the job of a forward observer during the push on Germany. They had bulky radios and strung a lot of telephone wire, the only two means of communicating with the battery. They also took German fire from mortars and the dreaded 88 mm guns.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
He was taken from college ROTC, sent to basic training, then sent to another college as part of the ASTP program. It seemed the Army just couldn't make up it's mind about what to do with bright students like Jim Murphy. Then it decided. It was off to the war for them.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
At first, Jim Murphy was assigned to an infantry unit, but when they found out about his previous artillery training, he was moved to the field artillery. The morale was awful there but he persevered and became a forward observer team member. He was just about ready for the push on Germany.