Roy Exum: Memorial Day, 2018

Monday, May 28, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Sometime next Monday, the GrowJoy Nursery in Indiana is going to send me a dozen yellow flowers and I am going to do something with them that will be a lot of fun for me. Each of the Gold Star Perennial Mums comes in a 2.5-inch pot and costs $8.58 apiece and that includes free shipping. What’s more, for every plant GrowJoy sells, they will give $5, again from each plant, to the Herschel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Ever since Feb. 23, 1945, Williams has devoted his life to the memory of two Marines whose names he does not know.
“This medal does not belong to me. I am just its care-taker,” the 94-year-old will tell you. “I would not be wearing this medal had it not been for the two men who gave their lives to protect me that day.”
He’ll also share that he is the last Medal of Honor recipient from those awarded the nation’s highest honor in the Marine Corps from World War II “because God’s not ready for me and the devil wants nothing to do with me.” It’s Memorial Day. Please do not play this one lightly, not now or forever more.
The last of 11 children on a rural West Virginia dairy farm, Williams weighed three pounds at birth. When he wasn’t in a one-room schoolhouse or minding endless chores on his farm, he sometimes made some pennies delivering telegrams on his bicycle and, back in those days, he vividly remembers when a “Blue Star mother,” like his own with older brothers in the Army, became a “Gold Star mother.”
His mother steadfastly refused to allow him to join the war, but the very day he turned 18 he went to see the Marine recruiter. Because he was 5'6", he was told he was too short but within a year the requirement was lowered to 5'2" and, suddenly effervescent, he was sent to California for boot camp. “We had a 12-gauge shotgun and the farm,” he once said, “and there are no guns in the Marines. One night I stood naked in the rain holding my rifle over my head and yelling, “This is my rifle ... this is my rifle.!”  (Trust me, millions of Marines will know the rest of the ditty.)”
In another interview he said, “I didn’t know at the time I went into the Marine Corps that I would ever leave the United States. The concept most of us had going into the service was we were going to stay right here in America to protect the country because our freedom had been threatened. It wasn’t until I got through boot camp that I learned we were going overseas. I didn’t even know we had a Pacific Ocean!”
* * *
WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY ON IWO JIMA
"On Iwo Jima, I was back with Headquarters Company the whole time supplying demolition Marines with whatever they needed. The commanding officer had a meeting in this huge crater, which was made by a large bomb. We were looking for ways to move forward. We had tried several times and every time we were overpowered and we had to move back. I was asked to use the flamethrower to take out some of the pillboxes that were holding us up.
"It is very possible that if two Marines, on Feb. 23, 1945, had not given their lives protecting mine; I would not be privileged to wear this medal. I was assigned two riflemen and two battlefield assault riflemen. I put a battlefield assault rifleman and a rifleman on each side of the area I was going to approach, so they could shoot the pillbox I selected. That’s when I lost two of them. Two of them got killed.
"The pillboxes had an aperture in front with about a six to eight-inch opening in the front. That’s where they could put their rifles and machine guns out and have a complete field of fire on you because it covered almost the whole front of the pillbox, which was about eight to 12 feet long.
"That day, I did the work, which resulted in my receiving the medal. I used up six flamethrowers. I was crawling up a ditch. They had dug ditches between the pillboxes, so they could come out and crawl on their belly to the next pillbox and you couldn’t see them. They were below ground level.
"I could see a light machine gun. As I crawl up the ditch he starts firing at me. I’m low enough in the ditch that his bullets were ricocheting off my flamethrower on my back. He was firing about 750 rounds-per-minute. When I was close enough, I crawled around the side to get out of the field of fire. I crawled up the sand on top of the pillbox and stuck my flamethrower down the vent pipe.
"It was like a dream, most of it I still can’t remember. I know I couldn’t have received this medal without those to Marines who gave their life. I wear it in their honor.
(For the record, a Marine gunner would never say this is any interview but, in just four hours Woody Williams, who you might have seen flip the coin in this year’s Super Bowl, single-handedly took six pillboxes out that day to enable the 3rd Marines to advance. This spring the USS Hershel Woody Williams was commissioned by the Navy.)
"I should have been evacuated March 6. I got hit with piece of shrapnel. It had gotten me inside the left leg. I slid in a grazed-out piece of ground. The corpsman came. He took his forceps and pulled it out and said, 'Do you want this?'  I said, 'I sure do!' It was still hot. I still have it.
"Then the corpsman wrote out his report sitting there on the ground next to me. We had been told if a corpsman ever tagged you, you have to go back. He put that yellow tag on my lapel. I reached up and jerked the tag off, so I stayed. Of course, for several days I walked with a big, long limp.”
* * *
Williams said he best day and his most scared day as a Marine was when President Truman put the Medal of Honor around his neck. “He told me he’d rather wear this medal than be President.” Of 27 Medals of Honor awarded for valor at Iwo Jima alone, 14 were posthumous.
Williams served as a veterans counselor and, for 35 years, was the chaplain of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Today he is still active with his foundation, which has created 35 Gold Star Families Monuments across the United States with another 42 in the works. “We must never forget those who gave more than we did.”
Shortly after Herschel Woodrow Williams’ heroics that February day, he was standing on a beach about 1,000 yards from Mount Suribachi when suddenly Marines on his left and right started cheering and shooting their rifles in the air. “I thought people were losing their minds … and then I saw our flag,”soon-to-be a photograph considered the most iconic in the War of the Pacific. “Morale was so low … we had lost so many men.
“But the flag gave us hope. Still does”
* * *
* -- “For love of country they accepted death.” -- James A. Garfield
* -- “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” --Benjamin Disraeli
* -- “And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.” -- Lee Greenwood
* – “Better than honor and glory, and History's iron pen, was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.” -- Richard Watson Gilder
* -- “All we have of freedom, all we use or know, this our fathers bought for us long and long ago.” --Rudyard Kipling
* -- “The dead soldier's silence sings our national anthem.” -- Aaron Kilbourn
* -- “The patriot's blood is the seed of Freedom's tree.” -- Thomas Campbell
* -- “Ah! never shall the land forget.” – William Cullen Bryant
* -- “Who kept the faith and fought the fight; The glory theirs, the duty ours.” -- Wallace Bruce
* -- “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” -- Arthur Ashe
* * *
TO CONTRIBUTE to the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation or learn more about the Gold Star Family monuments, contact chad.graham@hwwmohf.org.
TO CONTRIBUTE to the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center, become involved, or learn more about Chattanooga’s fabulous memorial, contact info@mohm.org.
TO ORDER ‘Gold Star Perennial mums,’ this in case you know someone who might like one, kindly go to www.growjoy.com
May you remember, rejoice and give thanks to each of those who did, before they could come back. May God bless the families who shared them with each us. I pray you will make this, albeit it a holiday, a holy day. For it is. It is indeed.


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