Hershel Woodrow Williams is better known by his nickname "Woody"—but perhaps best known for his service to his country. That service was recognized in a very special way as Woody was receiving care here in Cleveland.
Williams fought in World War II, serving in the Marine Corps as a flamethrower at the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. His actions were honored later that year as he was awarded the Medal of Honor, presented by President Harry Truman.
"Woody went on to do 20 years in the Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserves. He retired from the Marine Corps. And he also worked for the Veterans Affairs, Veterans Administration should say, for about 35 years as primarily a veterans advocate," his grandson Brent Casey said.
Starting a family and racing horses at his home in West Virginia were some of Williams' other accomplishments, but his dedication to his country always remained strong. From speaking engagements to starting the Woody Williams Foundation that recognizes Gold Star families, he has always been active in the military community.
Recently, though, Williams has had some health issues and required special care. His family decided to have him cared for at the Cleveland Clinic, so Williams made the trip to Northeast Ohio.
“He had gone up to Cleveland in the back of an ambulance, five hours in the back of an ambulance, and it was tough on him," Casey said.
After receiving the care he needed to be able to return home, Williams' family wanted to make sure he didn't have to suffer another five-hour trip in an ambulance—and began working to get him home in a better way.
"This is not an everyday thing. For LifeFlight, we normally get called to hospitals to take somebody to another hospital or go to a scene of an accident and take somebody to a hospital. So it was a little bit different," said Nathan Hodgson, MetroHealth flight nurse specialist. "We were up late in the night and I woke a few people up. But there was never a hesitation."
Casey had called around and connected with Hodgson, telling his grandfather's story and seeking assistance to get him home
in a special way. After several late-night phone calls, MetroHealth's LifeFlight had agreed to fly Williams home in style.
"He was ecstatic. He was thrilled I don't think he really knew how we were going to—I mentioned flying him home—didn't mention the helicopter because I knew he would get a real charge out of that," Casey said. "He was grateful, very grateful and I think the staff, the pilots, the nurse and the doctor that were on board would attest to that."
Loaded up in the helicopter, Williams was transported by two retired Army helicopter pilots back home to Huntington, West Virginia.
"It was pretty special. Even though they weren't Marine Corps pilots—if Woody would have had a choice, and he could have hand-selected, he'd have selected a couple of Osprey pilots," Casey joked. "It was special to both of us that that we had two army helicopter pilots retired that took us on the flight today."
MetroHealth was happy to lend a hand to Williams.
"MetroHealth when given the opportunity and the resources will move mountains for people and I feel like that's what we needed to do for Woody and his family. A real honor," Hodgson said.
And Williams—although grateful for MetroHealth, Cleveland Clinic and the city for taking good care of him—was happy to be back home in West Virginia where he'll continue receiving care at the Veterans Administration Medical Center named after him.
"Cleveland Clinic was just fantastic. The doctors were outstanding there, and got him in a position to be able to come back home and continue his care at the VA so that was special," Casey said. "As soon as the flight landed at the Woody Williams VA Medical Center, and he rolled out, they rolled him out on the stretcher, the first thing he said was West Virginia—almost heaven.”
Williams returns from Cleveland to his home state where he will soon have a Navy ship named after him as well, recognizing his heroic efforts in World War II and every day after.
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