Advocates race against the clock to secure a state funeral for the sole surviving WWII Medal of Honor recipient.
Robert Maxwell, who flung himself upon an enemy grenade in France to save fellow soldiers from the blow, died in May, leaving just three living World War II Medal of Honor winners.
Francis Currey, who saved five men trapped down by German fire, died in October.
"And now there are two," Bill McNutt stated.
McNutt, from Dallas, wants President Donald Trump to grant a state funeral for the last living World War II Medal of Honor recipient. In 2017, he organized the State Funeral for World War II Veterans and enlisted the help of dozens of volunteers to make his case. Their task has become more pressing since the deaths of Maxwell and Curry.
“We are feeling a real sense of urgency,” said McNutt. “How sad we will all be if we can’t convince the president to make this designation.”
According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the Medal of Honor was given to 473 World War II military men. Charles Henry Coolidge, 98, and Hershel "Woody" Williams, who turned 96 last month, are the two who are still alive.
In southern France, Coolidge headed a company of machine gunners and riflemen. In October 1944, he and his soldiers were charged with defending a high position against an enemy onslaught for four days.
Bill McNutt, right, stands with Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams.
In 1945, Williams fought at Iwo Jima. He destroyed Japanese pillboxes with a flamethrower while sprinting back and forth between the breach and the refueling lines for four hours while under enemy fire.
McNutt feels a state funeral, complete with a public observance in the United States Capitol, would be a fitting send-off for the World War II generation.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, less than 390,000 World War II soldiers are still alive. Over 16 million Americans took part in the battle.
"It would be a final salute to the Greatest Generation," McNutt remarked.
McNutt rallied statewide leaders in 21 states with the help of volunteers. Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, and Missouri state legislatures have all passed resolutions asking for the state funeral in the last two years. Congressional delegations from five states – Minnesota, Louisiana, Missouri, Utah, and West Virginia – wrote to Trump requesting the designation.
Furthermore, West Virginia senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, sponsored a resolution demanding the funeral.
“We need a bigger megaphone,” McNutt said. “I can write a letter to the president, and we can have a petition with over 13,000 signatures, but a bigger megaphone is when the House and Senate in Baton Rouge, La., write to the president. A bigger megaphone is when all the congressmen in Missouri sign a letter.”
Brent Casey, the grandson of Woody Williams, joined the initiative, seeking help from Kentucky officials. Casey and his grandfather delivered a letter to Trump, requesting Williams' audience with the president.
“I feel like if we could only get Woody in front of him for two minutes and not be passing a letter to a Secret Service agent,” Casey said, “if we could just get word to him directly, in an effective way, it would be a no-brainer.”
Presidents of the United States have the right to order state funerals. They are usually reserved for presidents, although they have been given to others, most recently to five-star General of the Army Douglas MacArthur in 1964. After President John F. Kennedy was slain in 1963, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, followed out the presidential directive.
McNutt believes that if Trump orders the funeral and Coolidge or Williams survives Trump's presidency, his successor — like Johnson — will carry it out.
Former President George H.W. Bush, a World War II veteran, had the most recent state funeral in December.
“It would be such an uplifting thing for this country, especially in the time we’re in right now,” Casey said. “This is something everybody could get behind. It could move us forward.”
Coolidge and Williams have continued to serve their communities even in their 90s, he noted. In Williams' honor, a foundation was established to assist Gold Star families by offering scholarships and outreach programs. A center in Coolidge's honor is now being created to promote character development to elementary, middle, and high school students.
“They could’ve gone home and rested on their laurels and just been done — sat on their rocking chairs on the front porch with an iced tea. But neither of them did that,” Casey stated. “Both of them, on some level, are still serving. Both of them are great Americans — national treasures that have certainly proved they would represent that place very well, regardless of which one it is.”