Hershel “Woody” Williams survived Iwo Jima, destroying six enemy pillboxes. When offered the COVID-19 vaccine, the Medal of Honor recipient didn’t hesitate.

“I would encourage any and all Veterans to take this vaccination,” the 97 year old said. “All of us. All of those who have served in the armed forces — take this vaccine so we can get a handle on this thing because, if a sufficient number do not take it, then how in the world are we going to overcome it?”

He received doses Dec. 22 and Jan. 19 at the namesake facility for him–the Hershel “Woody” Williams VA Medical Center–in December.

“I was the first one, really, to receive the vaccine at the medical center and I was very anxious to get that vaccine because of my age,” he said. “I certainly didn’t want to get the virus, so I waited patiently until the vaccine became available, then they were good enough to do me number one.”

Williams’ advice to other Veterans is simple.

“Definitely, take the vaccine.”

COVID-19 vaccine button

About Williams

Williams received a Medal of Honor for his courageous actions on Iwo Jima. When his company commander asked if he could do something about the concrete-fortified pillboxes, Williams “strapped on the flamethrower to go take out some pillboxes.”

Williams took out seven enemy pillboxes with six different flamethrowers as the fighting continued on Iwo Jima. Williams recalled, “If I had an empty flamethrower . . . I probably wouldn’t be talking to you today.”

His Medal of Honor citation reads, “on one occasion he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flame thrower through the air vent, kill the occupants and silence the gun; on another he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.”

Williams served as a contact representative with VA in field offices in West Virginia and New Mexico for 33 years.

Watch Williams’ story

Watch the six-part series above to hear Williams tell this incredible story himself.

Video interview by Ben Pekkanen.

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Feb. 2, 2021

Estimated reading time is 1.8 min.

Views to date: 383


  1. Tom Tucker February 4, 2021 at 1:15 pm

    Woody, You are an inspiration to all of us. I served in Vietnam in 67/68 with the 1st Infantry Division. I was a grunt and spent many days and nights in the boonies. It wasn’t fun but nothing compares to what you went through. THANK YOU.
    Also a THANK YOU to those vets of any generation, especially those that suffered injuries and are still suffering.
    My wife and I got our 1st vaccination this Monday. It was quick and easy with no side effects. Some won’t get a shot. I suspect its because they think of themselves more so than protecting friends and loved ones. That’s their choice. We live in America so we all can make those choices. Some affect ourselves and some affect others.

  2. Daniel Roberts February 4, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    Can you please get me a point of contact with this hero? I was stationed in Okinawa from 2002-03 and was able to visit Iwo Jima and have some of the famous black sand I would love to get to him!

  3. Woody Williams February 4, 2021 at 11:44 am

    If it is good for ~Woody~ and he recommends it is good for me!
    Actually I already got my 1st VA vaccine shot and am getting my second one shortly.
    I am also 100% P&T with 2 service connected disabilities which puts me into the compromised immune systems department.
    Lastly, Unfortunately I am not related to that “Woody Williams” but wish I Was named after him!
    *Semper Fi*
    ~Woody Williams~

  4. Ronald Strojny February 4, 2021 at 8:40 am

    A true hero and great example of what our country is made of.
    Thank you Marine.

    Ron S.
    US Army retired
    Disabled veteran
    Desert Storm

  5. Kenneth E Hettich February 4, 2021 at 7:26 am

    I’m 70 years old and 100% service connected disabilities. Please pass the below message to Medal of Honor recipient Woody H Willams.

    Brother Woody: I’m 100% disabled and live in pain every moment of every day. However, when I consider the sacrifices you made to suppress the enemy and save your brothers. I’m humbled and broken. I wasn’t there in the conflict, but, I want to tell you from the deepest part of my heart and soul. “Thank you. May God walk with you daily and your life be years ahead.” Your brother, Ken

  6. Dr. JPW February 4, 2021 at 1:18 am

    I have lived without this vaccine until now and will continue to do so.

    • David B Rexrode February 4, 2021 at 8:36 am

      Amen. Whoever wants, can have mine.

      • Clayton Stokes February 4, 2021 at 11:42 am

        God takes care of a lot of things, but he gave us a brain so we can also help ourselves. However you can’t fix stupid

  7. Moises Salas February 3, 2021 at 8:37 pm

    O.K. it sounds and looks very caring to those that have received the Covid-19 vaccination. I am a 60 year old veteran, how much longer must I wait??

  8. daniel kearns February 3, 2021 at 7:18 pm

    God bless you Woody

  9. Stan Lore February 3, 2021 at 6:19 pm

    Still mentally sharp, and speaks clearly. A better spokesperson for taking the vaccine ain’t alive.
    Semper Fi my brother.

  10. Dennis McNally February 2, 2021 at 9:47 am

    I am 71 100% Permanently ,and totally disabled.Service connection.

    • Michael Faulkner February 4, 2021 at 1:02 am

      Dennis, you’re a hero! I don’t know anything about you or where you’re located but, during a time when people are focused on things people AREN’T doing for them, I’d like to Thank You for your service and offer whatever help I can to let you know that I appreciate everything you HAVE done for our country.

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