A room filed with veterans, American Legion members and middle and high school students were on their feet and applauding before Ernie West of Wurtland had reached the microphone during Friday’s unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service “Medal of Honor Forever” stamp series in Ashland.
West, who served during the Korean War and was presented the nation’s highest award for service above and beyond the call of duty, was joined by Woody Williams of nearby Ona, W.Va., who received his Medal of Honor for action during the battle of Iwo Jima. Williams is pictured in uniform as a young man serving America during World War II, while West will be included on the next series of Medal of Honor Forever stamps dedicated to those who fought in Korea.
While West kept his comments brief Friday, Williams took advantage of the opportunity to ask the supportive audience to lend their energies to goals he has been working toward for years, memorials for the families of service members who gave their lives for the nation. Drawing from his own archives, Williams also presented several “love letters” he had mailed his girlfriend-turned-wife, Ruby, while traveling to destinations in the South Pacific during the second World War, pointing out sections that had been cut out by censors who feared he might be sharing too much information.
Mail call, Williams said, was far more important than chow for himself and fellow Marines stationed far from home. “Mail call was one of the most important facets of life when you were overseas,” he said. While he wrote his girlfriend far more often than his mother, Williams said the contributions of America’s mother’s can’t be overstated.
“It was the mothers that prayed for us,” he said, noting he was one of three brothers who served at the time, adding his appreciation for each family that lost a son or brother.
“Those families actually suffered more than we did. They gave more than we did. Mom gave a part of herself,” he said.
Williams said he began working to help establish community memorials for those “Gold Star Families” after meeting a father who heard him speak and later informed him, “Dads cry too.” The man’s son had recently been killed while serving in Afghanistan, he said.
Lightening the mood, Williams shared a few passages from his war-era correspondence, including a note informing his girlfriend he had completed a training school for a new type of weapon, and named his for her. “A flamethrower -— I called it Ruby,” he said with a chuckle.
West and Williams tugged at the USPS covering which had been placed over an enlargement of the Medal of Honor stamp series, unveiling a series of postage-photographs surrounding the artistic World War II Medal of Honor series. Williams was asked to point himself out among the young men depicted, and he reminded the audience that three of those pictured have passed away since the stamp project was announced.
Medal of Honor Forever stamp collections are now available at the Ashland Post Office. For more information, call (606) 327-2110.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.