NORFOLK, Va. -- A 96-year-old war hero looked on as military officials commissioned a U.S. Navy warship in honor of the veteran, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima.
The USS Hershel "Woody" Williams was commissioned Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia, with the World War II veteran present.
The USS Williams is an Expeditionary Sea Base ship that was built and launched in 2017. With its commissioning, the vessel's designation changed from a support ship to a warship, and command transferred from the Military Sealift Command to Naval Surface Force Atlantic.
Williams described the commissioning as "a moment in history that is beyond my comprehension."
"May all those who serve aboard this ship that bears my name be safe and proud. May she have God's blessings for a long life of service to America, the greatest country on Earth," he said.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin delivered the principal address at Saturday's ceremony, praising his fellow West Virginian as "West Virginia strong through and through."
"I have never had a more prestigious honor to be able to be here with a person who is truly an American hero," Manchin said.
Other speakers included Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Geurts, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria and Rear Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Force Atlantic.
"This ship, by design, is intended to go over the horizon and into harm's way and I am confident they will do so, combat ready and battle-minded," Kitchener said.
The ship will primarily support aviation mine countermeasure and special operations missions, freeing up amphibious warships and surface combatant ships for more demanding operational missions.
Williams received his medal for actions as a demolition sergeant with the 3d Marine Division in February 1945. As U.S. tanks tried to open a lane for infantry amid pillboxes and buried mines, he went forward alone seeking to reduce enemy machine gun fire.
Covered by only four riflemen, Williams fought for hours, returning repeatedly to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain flamethrowers to wipe out enemy positions. On one occasion, he mounted a pillbox to insert the nozzle of his flamethrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing the gun.