Last Living WWII Medal of Honor recipient memorialized in Virginia

Tuesday, August 16, 2022
ORF group photo

Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living WWII recipient of the Medal of Honor was laid to rest in a family plot in his West Virginia hometown last month. Members of TSA Virginia considered it a high honor and a solemn privilege to help coordinate security and screening for the Norfolk, Virginia ceremony.

Williams saw action in the Pacific during WWII, first during the Battle of Guam and later, at the Battle of Iwo Jima, where out of disregard for his own life, he used a flamethrower to dismantle six Japanese reinforced concrete pillboxes. For his heroism, in 1945, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for those actions, the U.S. government’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.

Photo of casket
Supervisory TSA Officers Miguel Patino, Shelly Peabody-Shaw (far right) and members of the Norfolk Airport Authority Police Department salute as Hershel “Woody” Williams’ casket is carried back to the C-130 headed for West Virginia International Yeager Airport. (Photo courtesy of Norfolk Airport Authority)

“The family specifically requested to travel to Norfolk to honor Woody and the crew of the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (the expeditionary mobile base and namesake currently in service with the Navy),” said Norfolk International Airport (ORF) TSA Assistant Federal Security Director-Law Enforcement (AFSD-LE) Ryan Thibault. “Coordination was required in order to screen the family for their follow-on (American Airlines charter) flight to West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW) in Kanawha County, for Williams’ final graveside services and burial.”

After Williams lied in state at the U.S. Capitol, a C-130 aircraft flew Williams’ remains to ORF where a dignified human remains transfer occurred as his casket moved from the plane to a general aviation hanger for a memorial service attended by family, close friends, veterans and military dignitaries.

“Events like these provide a lasting reminder of the sacrifices and courage our military members display in the face of great odds,” said Thibault. “It was an honor to take part in and witness such an intimate and historic moment.”

Supervisory TSA Officers Miguel Patino and Shelly Peabody-Shaw represented TSA at the transfer and screened family members for their CRW flight.

Marines in hanger photo
The U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard completes the dignified human remains transfer prior to the service in the Norfolk International Airport Signature hanger. (Photo courtesy of Norfolk Airport Authority)

“As a Navy veteran, I appreciated the opportunity to witness the service, honoring the last of America’s ‘greatest generation’ to receive the Medal of Honor,” said Patino. “I consider being able to participate in these kinds of events as one of TSA’s unadvertised perks. We were able to provide security screening for Mr. Williams’ family and witness first-hand a historic event.”

“Being asked to stand at attention with the Norfolk Airport Authority Police Department was an honor,” said Peabody-Shaw. “Woody was a hero. He and his family were treated as such by TSA during the ceremony. Out of respect for Woody, we stayed until he was placed on the plane and departed.”

Thibault and U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Richmond International Airport AFSD-LE Matthew Dyer, FBI and Norfolk Airport police officers provided security for the service that included a mournful rendition of Taps and a 21-gun salute.

“As Marines, we consider each other family to our core,” said Dyer about what his participation in this event meant to him. “No matter the generation or time of service, Marines are brothers and sisters for life; Once a Marine, always a Marine. Welcoming Woody home was a sacred honor, and I was humbled to have the opportunity to be there for his family and loved ones.”

 By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs