The first U.S. Navy ship named for Hershel Woodrow Williams, who was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, on 2 October 1923, and grew up on a dairy farm in neighboring Quiet Dell. Prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve in Charleston, W. Va., on 26 May 1943, the young man worked as a truck driver for the W. S. Harr Construction Co., of Fairmont. He had also been a taxi driver and employed at other odd jobs.
Private Williams completed his recruit training at Marine Corps Base, San Diego, Calif., and joined the Tank Battalion at Training Center, Camp Elliott, San Diego, on 21 August 1943. The following month, he was transferred to the Infantry Battalion at the center, training as a demolition man and receiving instruction in the use of the flame thrower. On 30 October, he joined the 32nd Replacement Battalion. He left the United States on board the War Shipping Administration troop ship (Dutch registry) Weltevreden on 3 December 1943 for New Caledonia in the Loyalty Islands. In January 1944, he joined the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. He served initially with Company C, 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, and then to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 21st Marines. During July and August 1944, he participated in action against the Japanese at Guam, and in October rejoined Company C.
Williams next took part in Operation Detachment — landings on Iwo Jima in the Kazan Rettō (Volcano Islands) by the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions. Landing on Iwo Jima on 21 February 1945, three days later Cpl. Williams volunteered his services when marine tanks maneuvered vainly to open a lane for the infantry through a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands. Williams daringly went forward alone to reduce the devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered by only four riflemen, he fought desperately for nearly four hours under intense enemy small-arms fire, repeatedly returning to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers, and then struggling back, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, wiping out one position after another. On one occasion he daringly mounted a pillbox and inserted the nozzle of his flame thrower through the air vent, killing the occupants and silencing the machine gun. On another, he grimly charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets, destroying them with a burst of flame from his weapon.
Williams later received the Medal of Honor for his role in defeating the Japanese on Iwo Jima, his citation reading in part: “His unyielding determination and extraordinary heroism in the face of ruthless enemy resistance were directly instrumental in neutralizing one of the most fanatically defended Japanese strong points encountered by his regiment and aided in enabling his company to reach its’ [sic] objective. Corporal Williams’ aggressive fighting spirit and valiant devotion to duty throughout this fiercely contested action sustain and enhance the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” He was wounded in action on 6 March 1945, for which he subsequently received the Purple Heart.
In September 1945, he returned to the United States, and on the first day of the next month joined Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington. President Harry S. Truman presented Williams the Medal of Honor at the White House on 5 October 1945. On 22 October he was transferred to Marine Barracks, Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Md., for discharge. He was discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve on 6 November 1945. In March 1948, he reenlisted in the inactive Marine Corps Reserve, but was again discharged on 4 August 1949. On 20 October 1954, he joined the Organized Marine Reserve when the 98th Special Infantry Company was authorized by Marine Corps Headquarters, Clarksburg, W. Va. He transferred to the 25th Infantry Company in Huntington of that state on 9 June 1957. He later became the (interim) commanding officer of that company as a warrant officer on 6 June 1960. He was designated the Mobilization Officer for the 25th Infantry Company and surrounding Huntington area on 11 June 1963. He advanced through the enlisted ranks during his time in the reserves until reaching his final rank of chief warrant officer 4. Although CWO4 Williams technically did not meet retirement requirements, he retired from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1969 after approximately 17 years of service. In addition, Williams served as the Chaplain of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for 35 years.
Secretary of the Navy Raymond E. Mabus Jr., announced the selection of the name Hershel Williams for Expeditionary Sea Base (T-ESB-4) on 14 January 2016 during a ceremony at Charleston, W. Va.; she was laid down on 2 August 2016 at San Diego, Calif., by General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 19 August 2017; co-sponsored by CWO4 Williams’ daughters, Ms. Tracie Ross and Ms. Travie Ross; and delivered on 22 February 2018.
The 784-foot-long expeditionary sea base ship will feature a 52,000 square foot flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, repair spaces, magazines, and mission-planning spaces. Able to accommodate up to 250 people, she will support multiple missions including air mine counter measures, counter-piracy, maritime security, humanitarian aid and disaster-relief, and crisis response. In addition, Hershel Williams will be capable of supporting Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallions and MH-60R/S Seahawks, with an option for future upgrades to support Bell Boeing MV-22B Ospreys.
Detailed history pending.
Mark L. Evans
26 February 2018