Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 13, 2013

Public invited to meet Medal of Honor recipients

Tim Preston
The Independent

ASHLAND — A rare opportunity to meet two Medal of Honor recipients will happen Friday in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Service release of a series of stamps commemorating those who went above and beyond the call of duty.

Ashland Postmaster Marshall Howard said Medal of Honor recipients Ernie West of Greenup County, and West Virginia resident Woody Williams, will both be on hand at American Legion Post 76, located at 405 20th Street, for a ceremony set to begin at 11 a.m. Friday. The event is free and the public is encouraged to attend, Howard said.

Members of the Boyd County High School ROTC, as well as members of the school’s band and choir will also be participating in the ceremony, the postmaster said. Student submissions for Boyd County Middle School’s Medal of Honor art contest will also be judged and five winners selected, Howard noted.

West and Williams will unveil enlargements of the stamps bearing their likeness, and the stamps will be offered for sale during the event.

According to his citation, West “voluntarily accompanied a contingent to locate and destroy a reported enemy outpost. Nearing the objective, the patrol was ambushed and suffered numerous casualties. Observing his wounded leader lying in an exposed position, Pfc. West ordered the troops to withdraw, then braved intense fire to reach and assist him. While attempting evacuation, he was attacked by 3 hostile soldiers employing grenades and small-arms fire. Quickly shifting his body to shelter the officer, he killed the assailants with his rifle, then carried the helpless man to safety. He was critically wounded and lost an eye in this action, but courageously returned through withering fire and bursting shells to assist the wounded. While evacuating 2 comrades, he closed with and killed 3 more of the foe. Pfc. West’s indomitable spirit, consummate valor, and intrepid actions inspired all who observed him, reflect the highest credit on himself, and uphold the honored traditions of the military service.”

Williams earned his Medal of Honor “when American tanks, trying to open a lane for infantry, encountered a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, buried mines, and black volcanic sands. Williams went forward alone with his 70-pound flamethrower to attempt the reduction of devastating machine gun fire from the unyielding positions. Covered by only four riflemen, he fought for four hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire and repeatedly returned to his own lines to prepare demolition charges and obtain serviced flame throwers. He returned to the front, frequently to the rear of hostile emplacements, to wipe out one position after another. At one point, a wisp of smoke alerted him to the air vent of a Japanese bunker, and he approached close enough to put the nozzle of his flamethrower through the hole, killing the occupants. On another occasion, he charged enemy riflemen who attempted to stop him with bayonets and destroyed them with a burst of flame from his weapon.”

Each stamp package includes 20 stamps on a souvenir sheet listing the names of every recipient, with two stamp designs depicting Medals of Honor for the Army and Navy. Postal official said production had to be rushed, explaining that since the approval process last year, four of the living recipients have passed away.

The Postal Service typically prints 30 million stamps, however, approximately 81 million of the Medal of Honor stamps will be issued.

“That's how popular it will be,” Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders predicted. "These recipients are revered by all Americans. There is no one in this nation that has sacrificed more than these individuals."

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.