Jarrod E. Stephens
The Ashland Beacon
Each year as Veterans Day draws near, I find myself reflecting on the many veterans to whom I have a great deal of respect and gratitude toward because of their selfless acts. Not all veterans return home to be honored with medals and showered with parades, but they all deserve our respect and thanks.
The Raceland High School Choir, under the direction of Tom Stephens, and the band, under the direction of Melyssa Justice, held their annual Veterans Day concert at the John P. Stephens Cultural Arts Center and celebrated the men and women who have served.
In attendance was a very special guest speaker who embodies the courageous spirit of service and love for country. Medal of Honor recipient, Hershel “Woody” Williams was the guest speaker at the concert and his moving story and words were ones that the audience won’t soon forget. In his humble style, Williams took to the stage where he heard the band and choir perform patriotic tunes to set the mood for the afternoon. Williams is the sole surviving Marine from World War II to possess the Medal of Honor.
Williams told of how he was raised on a dairy farm in Quiet Dell, West Virginia and how that one of his special teachers, Miss Naomi Morgan taught him how to love his country. “She taught me to respect that flag,” he said as he gestured toward the American Flag. “She taught me that my life would be whatever I would make it.” He clearly stated that he was blessed and directed his accomplishments away from himself and said, “Everything that I have accomplished is because of others.” He continued by stating, “The only reason that I am privileged to wear this Medal of Honor is because of other Marines who took the time to recommend that I receive it.” Williams’ words were soft yet poignant as he continued to shift the focus away from his own gallantry to the actions of those whom he’d been surrounded with throughout life.
After telling of the great struggle that he and his fellow Marines faced on Iwo Jima, Williams implored those in attendance to consider the events or “happenings” in their lives and how they have made us who we are and how we can use them to make us a better person.
“When these circumstances happen, our lives take on another direction,” Williams said. “You are changed by these happenings.” He could have easily used his circumstances in World War II as a reason to withdraw from the public eye, however, Williams chose to use his experiences to help others.
In 2012 he created the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation through which he places Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments in towns across the nation to honor fallen soldiers. Williams is passionate about shedding a light on the struggles that families face as they mourn the loss of their family members who are in the U.S. military.
Simply to consider the many soldiers who have died to preserve our liberties and to liberate others is quite humbling. Being in the same room with Williams and observing his passion was truly moving and no doubt gave reason for those in attendance to reflect upon the blessings that we have in America because of such mighty men. May God continue to bless our men and women in uniform, and may God bless America.