SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams spent Tuesday evening speaking about his war experiences to a crowd at the Lincoln Presidential Library.
Of the 82 Marines who received the Medal of Honor for service during the war, Williams is the only one still alive.
"I joined the Marine Corps, not for personal reasons, but to protect my country and my freedom," Williams said. "And when I joined the Marine Corps, I was thinking I would stay right here in the United States to protect our country."
Instead, Williams found out upon finishing boot camp that he'd not only be going overseas, but right into the thick of World War II. The Marines sent him to Japan, where he fought in one of the war's most pivotal campaigns - the Battle of Iwo Jima.
"We had no intelligence about the island," Williams said. "But the reason it was important that we have it, is that so our aircraft ... if they had a problem, they needed some place to land."
Williams said talking about his wartime memories and experiences is important to impart the lessons of history to younger generations.
"It's important that our youth understand that the reason they have all they have is because others were willing to make that sacrifice," he said.
Among the stories he talked about Tuesday night was receiving the Medal of Honor - the military's highest decoration - from then-President Harry Truman.
"You will never see a more scared boy than this 21-year-old country boy that was facing a president who he never ever dreamed he would even see," Williams said, laughing. "When I learned that two Marines had sacrificed their lives on the day that I did the work, to protect me ... I don't wear it for what I did, I wear it in honor of those who never got to come home."