Giving the World War II Generation a Final Solute Through a State Funeral for the Last MOH Recipient
Mr. Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams had the honor to receive a State funeral in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol on July 14, 2021. It was the first time an enlisted man had ever been laid to rest in the Capitol Rotunda.
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Woody Williams was a World War II Marine Veteran who received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in 1945 for his "extraordinary heroism" during the Battle of Iwo Jima, when, at the age of 21, he operated six flamethrowers against Japanese forces for several hours, clearing a path for American troops.
How Did the Idea Originate?
The idea for a state Funeral for the last MOH holder from World War II came from a then 10-year-old Texas public school girl, Rabel McNutt of Dallas. Her Godfather Walter Ehlers who received the Medal of Honor for fighting the Germans in Normandy in 1944, died on February 20, 2014.
Rabel McNutt had never attended a military funeral before, so her father, Bill McNutt, showed her YouTube footage of President Ronald Reagan's and General Douglas MacArthur's state funerals. "Are they going to have a large funeral in Washington D.C. for Uncle Ehlers and his friends?" Rabel asked her father.
McNutt responded, somewhat surprised by his daughter's suggestion, "They should!" Let's see what we can come up with.
"We feel great pride in the fact that here's a little girl who had a big idea," Bill McNutt said.
Then came the real struggle, which resulted in the formation of a non-profit organization, State Funeral for World War II Veterans, co-founded by Lee William Bill McNutt and Rabel McNutt, and then subsequently the idea became a reality.
The State Funeral for World War II Veterans launched a nationwide petition drive on Labor Day 2017 to persuade Congress and the President to designate a state funeral in Washington, D.C. for the last surviving Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from WWII.
The notion quickly spread across the country, with volunteer efforts taking place in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As a result, 16 state legislatures passed resolutions in support, 15 congressional delegations wrote letters of support, 11 state governors wrote to the White House, the American Legion unanimously supported the effort at their 100th convention.
The VFW, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the National Medal of Honor Museum, the National World War II Museum, and many other national military, bi-partisan, and veterans-related organizations also on record encouraged the White House to do the right thing in granting a State Funeral for Mr. Williams to serve as a final salute to the 16 million men and women of the Greatest Generation who served in our armed forces from 1941-1945.
Rabel McNutt and her family were present at the funeral in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, July 14, 2021, to witness the realization of their efforts for Woody Williams' family, as well as every other military family.
"I'm very proud of her," Susana McNutt said. "She's a very persistent young lady. It was a very united movement to make this happen."
Williams became a friend and mentor to young Rabel. He thanked Rabel for this idea.
"Hello, Rabel! We appreciate all you do," he said. "And thanks for your idea of having this honor that maybe that I may receive," he said with a laugh. "Hopefully we get it approved."
"He was a humble man. Very kind," Rabel said. "It was really a true blessing getting to know him. And he taught me so many valuable things. And we want to thank them, thank everyone, for their sacrifice that they gave."
Mr. Williams’s Contributions
Mr. Williams' contributions after his time in uniform were equal to his exploits in defeating the Japanese. The Woody Williams Foundation designed, built, and installed 104 Gold Star Monuments across all 50 states to honor families who have lost a loved one in combat or military service. Today, from Navarro City, Texas, to Portland, Oregon, and Lee Maine these beautiful monuments serve as a reminder that freedom is not free and must be earned by each generation.
Woody worked as a Veterans Service Representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for 33 years, allowing him to continue serving veterans and their families.
He was also a frequent collaborator with the organizers of Carry the Load, a Dallas non-profit that featured Williams in a recent documentary.
Woody has literally written dozens of Resolutions to benefit veterans and other causes in West Virginia and across the country.