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Easter Holds Special Meaning for WW2 Hero

For “…conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty,” Corporal Woody Williams was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal was earned for his heroic actions on Iwo Jima. A month later, Woody was wounded by shrapnel but refused to leave the battlefield. For that, he was awarded the Purple Heart.

Guam was simply, ‘Get them before they get you.’ You got to do this to win, you got to take the island and the only way you can take the island is to get rid of the people. Iwo Jima was a little different in that it was open. In the jungle you felt a little more safe because you felt you could hide. You could get behind something. There’s a tree, there’s a hole, there’s something you can get in. On Iwo, that wasn’t the case.

In February of 1945, the tiny island of Iwo Jima, with its lone air strip, was the most coveted piece of real estate on the planet. Woody and his battalion overtook a network of seven pillboxes. With his 70-pound flamethrower, he led an epic attack that lasted 4 hours.

“That was my job. That’s what I’d been trained for. So it wasn’t anything unusual except now I’m the guy that is in the forefront. All I’m doing is what they asked me to do.”

That same day, with the island now secure, Woody saw Old Glory waving over Mt. Suribachi. The iconic photo made headlines around the world, stirring up a sense of jubilation because victory was now in sight. But victory, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, especially for the man who pulls the trigger.

“You almost become inhuman. You don’t think of it, or at least I didn’t think of it, as a being. An enemy - that was the term we used. Yet that word gave me a little bit of trouble because they hadn't done anything to me. It’s hard to think of somebody as an enemy that you don’t even know, or never done anything to you. But that’s what we’d been taught. They are our enemy. They are trying to kill us, so your job is to get them first.”

Not only did Woody kill several of the enemy, but two of his fellow marines gave their own lives to save him.

“I wasn’t bothered particularly until I got home. Then you try to return back to where you were prior to going into the service. It’s almost impossible. You’re not the same person you were before. You don’t think the same. My problem was, I couldn’t forgive myself.”

After the war, he married Ruby Dale, and they had two daughters. Ruby was a Christian who went to church regularly. Woody was much different.

“A few times when we would go visit her folks, I would go to church with the family, just walk in. It had absolutely no meaning whatsoever to me. And in fact, it was boring. I had no concept of God or religion. And what can God do for me? I don’t even understand Him. How could I think that He could help me when I don’t even know Him?

On Easter Sunday, 1962, he decided to go to church with Ruby and his girls.

“The pastor was talking about Christ giving His life for us. It seemed like all the time he was talking, he’s looking at me. He was using the illustration of Christ being nailed to the cross. And he used his fist and his big old hand to emphasize the pounding of the nail, you know, like that. And he’s hitting his hand, saying at the same time, ‘You helped nail Christ to the cross.’ And that Christ had sacrificed his life just for us. Well, that hit home with these two Marines. Here are two individuals who didn’t have to give their life, but they did, protecting me. And it really got me. It really got me. And for the first time I realized that there are sacrifices made for us. Then he continued to talk about He suffered all of this just so you could be forgiven. That was my problem.

“You don’t get up in the middle of a sermon and walk up in front of a Methodist church. I did and he stopped. Because he knew why I was there. He said something to the effect of ‘Can I help you?’ or ‘What do you want?’ or something. And my response was, ‘Would you pray for me?’

“I’d never asked anybody to pray for me before. But he came down from behind the pulpit. We knelt at the rail and he prayed and asked that God forgive me and He did. And I left there a completely different person than I was when I walked in.

Woody met with the pastor over the next few weeks, and learned what it meant to be a new man in Jesus Christ.

“The sacrifice that God made by giving His Son so we can have a pathway to heaven – we couldn’t get there any other way, and He tells us that very straightforward. You can only get to the Father if you come through Me. And that’s pretty strong.”  

Today, most of the locals know Woody Williams. Maybe it’s because he’s a hero, or just a good friend. Maybe it’s because he’s taught Sunday school at his church for 44 years.

“First I was teaching young people. As time went on, the young people got old, and then I began teaching old people.”

Ruby passed away in 2007. And Woody, at 94 years old, still remembers Easter fondly, for it was the day he found forgiveness.

“I would hope that Easter would mean more than just one day. And I hope that it would have an effect every day. Because you get a peace by being in God’s hands, by following Jesus Christ, you get a peace that you can’t find any place else. There is no place on this earth. And He’s the only One that can do that.”

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