Topic: "Country Roads" (7)
Open any map of West Virgina and look for a town called Fairmont. Got it? Good, now you're in the general vicinity. In the town there is but a single school, and only one single school-teacher, for all grades, one-through-eighth. In the farmhouse where he was borne and then grew up, the floor was unfinished wood, except in the kitchen, where linoleum was used to make cleaning easier. This was his world when the news eventually reached the little town that our country was under attack.
When he joined the United States Marine Corps, he did not know for sure that there was a Pacific Ocean. He truly believed that "in defense of America," he would be standing arm-in-arm with others just like him encircling our country at our national borders, keeping our enemies from getting into our backyards and our chicken coops. Imagine, if you will, what it must have been like when he arrived in California for basic training.
Less than two years later, he was lying face-down in the sands of the island now known to us all, every one. He heard cheering all around him, and noticed a whole bunch of crazy soldiers exposing themselves, in celebration. He looked up to see the "second" raising of the first American flag to fly over Japanese soil, less than a thousand feet from his shallow cover on Mount Suribachi.
Earlier, he was "selected" to carry a 70-pound flamethrower, filled with what was baically diesel fuel, in order to help his fellow Marines penetrate the tunnels and the pillboxes that held even the American tanks from entry. For five days, no progress had been made. He sprayed one pillbox through the front slit, killing all the enemy inside, turned to face infantry with drawn bayonets, and felled them too. He told Frodo that two brave Marines died, covering his back. The fighting continued, but he survived, and the path was opened for his fellow Marines to get off the beaches and into the heartland of Iwo Jima.
Several days later, he was informed that he was being removed from front-line duty in order to receive a "special award." He did not argue, but he had no idea what the fuss was all about. All he knew was that he would travel to Hawaii, and from there, take his first airplane flight ever, back to the States. As he explains it now, the Navy "lost him for seven days on Hawaii." Eventually, the logistics guys directed him to a B-29 which had one seat available. He boarded the plane at night, lit up with all sorts of bright lights, and 47 other passengers. When he found the seat available for him, he noticed the make-up of the others, all of whom had just been rescued from Japanese POW camps. He realized that the "one seat available" for him was for one who had not survived.
"Mr. Frodo, I will never forget my mind's eye, showing me men that normally weighed 180 or 190 pounds, who now weighed 70 or 80 pounds, who had lost their freedom. Now that freedom was restored, and the terrible cost of 6,212 dead Marines on Iwo Jima became understandable. Those were the happiest, most celebratory people I have ever met. I will never forget that moment."
He was one of eleven men who were the guests of Honor, if you will, at the White House on that day in 1945. Hard to believe it is that he was nervous, if not scared, as he waited for all the citations to be read, and for all the presentations to be made. Shivering as he stood before the President of the United States, he felt the gentle hand placed upon his shoulder, and he bowed his head as Harry S. Truman placed the Medal of Honor around his neck.
The next day he stood before the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps in his office, on a rug. Never before had he walked upon carpeting. He was not sure exactly how deep it was, nor how far into it he might sink. He remembered the message though; he was told to never bring shame to that medal, because it had been earned by many who would never wear it, nor whose names he would ever know.
Frodo has no doubt that Corporal Herschel Woodrow Williams had obeyed those orders to the fullest, every single day thereafter.
Frodo was a civilian on a military compound, with a very diverse audience in attendance, and Frodo watched as the military guys and gals asked for the honor of a salute to or from a member of the Medal of Honor Society. Every request was met, with smiles, and autographs, and pictures. In answer to a question, Corporal Williams said that he felt that the "war which remains should be ended, and the military forces rebuilt for the challenges that lie ahead."
That must have been some school teacher, in a one-room schoolhouse, near Fairmont, West Virginia.
NOTE: Corporal Williams is now 88 years-old, and he is the only Medal of Honor survivor from the State of West Virginia. He is one of two surviving decorated for action that occurred on Iwo Jima. Frodo could not help but note, as the smallest and the weakest, that Corporal Williams is only 5' 6". Perhaps heart deserves a measurement, too.