As the only American owned and operated hearing aid company, we are proud to share this better hearing story about an honored veteran.
He had no access to newspapers or televisions. There was just rolling farmland and an uncle with a radio. He didn’t know anything about Pearl Harbor. “All we knew was our country was threatened by people,” Hershel “Woody” Williams said. “I went in to protect my country and my freedom.”
The last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima, Williams, 93, joined the Marie Corps in late 1943. As a young man Hershel had worked the family’s farm and, at 16, he operated a jackhammer for a time drilling holes in pits for dynamite while participating in the Civilian Conservation Corps. As a Marine, Williams’ industrial experience landed him in a flamethrower/demolition unit where he handled a flamethrower, a weapon that would later help him and his company in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Heroism in Action
“During World War II, when you went overseas, you didn’t go home.” Williams said of his time in the war. “I went over in December of 1943 and came home in September 1945.” Williams was active in the Pacific Theater, fighting in the Battle of Guadalcanal in Guam and then in February 1945, on the beaches of Iwo Jima. His unit was unable to advance very far, as Iwo Jima lacked cover and the ground’s conditions made it impossible to dig foxholes. His actions on February 23, 1945, however, would earn him more than the gratitude of his fellow soldiers.
“Iwo Jima had rock but not core, and we couldn’t dig holes,” he said. “We didn’t have bulldozers or jackhammers, so they gave me the job of blowing out these holes.” Due to the long, arduous process of creating small holes with sharp pieces of iron and inserting dynamite sticks directly inside, the company did not advance very far until February 23 when Williams looked up to see that the American flag had been raised on Mount Suribachi. Inspired, he and his men surged forward across enemy lines and helped to create an opening for the Marines to advance.
For his heroism, Williams was awarded the Medal of Honor on October 5, 1945. He continued to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves after the war and worked as a Veteran Services Officer at the Veterans Administration until 1978. He remains active in his church and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
In an article by the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, Williams shared his views on his Medal of Honor: “This medal really does not belong to me — I could not have received it without the assistance of other Marines. So when I wear this medal, I don't wear it for what I did. I wear it in honor of two Marines — I don't know their names — who gave their lives protecting mine. It really belongs to them. I'm just a caretaker of it."
An Inspiring Figure for Others Needs Better Hearing
Today, Williams continues to act as a “caretaker” and runs the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation with his family. Established by Williams in 2012, the nonprofit establishes permanent monuments in communities throughout the country to honor Gold Star Families who have lost a loved one in service to their country. He also spends a lot of his time traveling, speaking at many engagements around the country on behalf of his foundation and to help raise awareness of the sacrifices that are made for freedom.
But about 10 years ago, his family began to notice that he was struggling with his hearing, something he needed with speaking engagements almost every week. “I noticed his hearing loss about 10 years ago, but the last five years have really been very frustrating for him and others like myself who are around him often,” Williams’ grandson Brent Casey said. “I could see him struggle with hearing others speak, watching TV, going to the movies, or listening to music or entertainment products at a venue. The most frustrating thing for me was that he would often answer a question without ever knowing really what the question was. I would joke with him that someone is going to say something and he’s going to give the wrong answer. This actually happened numerous times over the past few years.”
Williams said he didn’t really notice his hearing loss happen but conceded that he did struggle to hear high-pitched voices. While the actual cause of his hearing loss is not clear, it is most likely a combination of exposure to the damaging sounds he experienced as a youth working jackhammers, his time in WWII with his flamethrower/demolition unit and aging.
With his family’s support, Williams tried hearing aids a few years ago, but struggled with them. “I had tried several types of hearing aids but none of them eliminated the loud noise I had when I talked or moved my jaw, which made having conversation very difficult,” Williams said. His daughter, Tracie Ross, noted Williams was still having to use coping methods. “Dad would ask for people to repeat at times, but many times, he didn’t even know he had missed information. It was discouraging to see him still struggle after he got his first set of hearing aids.”
In September 2016, Williams tried yet another pair — this time a set of Halo 2 Made for iPhone hearing aids. Unlike his previous pairs which were In-The-Canal (ITC) devices, his new Halo 2 hearing aids are Receiver-In- Canal (RIC) devices and sit discreetly behind his ears. “The noise I had previously when I worked my jaw has completely disappeared,” he said after we caught up with him earlier this month. “The Starkey hearing aids are far more advanced. Being able to adjust the volume and set them to the control the noise in public places is unbelievable. They fit so well, I sometimes forget I have them in my ears. I love my hearing aids.”
Williams’ family has also noticed the night-and-day improvements. “In the short time he has had the Starkey hearing aids, I have noticed a drastic difference in his ability to hear, carry on conversations as well as be comfortable in general,” his other grandson, Chad Graham, said. “I mean it when I say that at 93 years young, he hears better than I do at 36.”
“Many, many prayers and hopes have been answered with these new hearing aids,” Brent said. “Woody has been to countless doctor appointments and tried several sets of hearing aids and now finally has the freedom that he deserves; to be able to hear and understand people as well as be able to eat and carry on a conversation at the same time, which is something that he has not been able to do for at least four or five years."
If you’d like to learn more about Williams, please visit his Congressional Medal of Honor Society page.