LEWISTON — A World War II Medal of Honor recipient at Iwo Jima will join the festivities Sunday in Lewiston at a groundbreaking ceremony for a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at Veterans Memorial Park.

Hershel “Woody” Williams, the fourth-oldest living Medal of Honor recipient at age 95, is spearheading an effort to honor Gold Star families with a series of monuments across the country.

Started in World War I, Gold Star families are immediate family members of American military personnel who died in service to the nation.

Sunday’s ceremony is expected to begin at 2 p.m. at 2 Main St.

An introduction about the monument will be given by Lt. Col. Adria Horn, a West Point graduate and former director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services. Speakers include Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque, Lewiston City Councilor Tim Lajoie, state Rep. Bettyann  Sheats, Maine Army National Guard Adjutant General Gen. Doug Farnum, and Gold Star mother Joyce Richmond.

Williams will follow with a prayer before the groundbreaking ceremony.

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The black granite monument to be erected in Lewiston is one of 88 planned or already dedicated in 39 states by Williams’ Medal of Honor Foundation. The first one was dedicated in his home state of West Virginia in 2013.

Williams’ interest in Gold Star families began during his early years delivering Western Union telegram death notices to families while driving a cab. The images stayed with him and inspired him to make it his mission late in life to honor Gold Star families.

Asked what drives him at age 95 to pursue that mission, Williams said, “The cause is greater than I,” according to a statement released by his foundation.

A Marine Corps corporal, Williams volunteered two days after arriving on Iwo Jima on a solo mission to neutralize the Japanese defenses that were preventing the American tanks from opening a corridor for the infantry.

According to his Medal of Honor citation:

“Cpl. Williams daringly went forward alone to attempt the reduction of devastating machine-gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered only by 4 riflemen, he fought desperately for 4 hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flamethrowers, struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out 1 position after another. On 1 occasion, he daringly mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing 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.”

Of the 27 recipients to receive the Medal of Honor at Iwo Jima, Williams is the only one alive.

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams waves to the crowd on his way to speak during the dedication ceremony for the Louisiana Gold Star Families Memorial Monument on state capitol ground last weekend in Baton Rouge. Williams, will be in Lewiston on Sunday for a groundbreaking ceremony for a similar monument. (Patrick Dennis/The Advocate via AP)


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