ELKINS - A Medal of Honor recipient was the guest speaker and received the key to the city of Elkins during Saturday's Marine Corps League Department of West Virginia State Convention Grand Banquet at American Legion Post 29.
Hershel Woodrow "Woody" Williams, West Virginia's only living Medal of Honor recipient and the only surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II's Battle of Iwo Jima, greeted the crowd and then stepped away from the podium and behind a closed door, only to return moments later wearing a hat and carrying a stick, adopting the guise of a Marine drill sergeant.
"Do you love America?" he bellowed at the crowd. Audience members shouted, "Yes, sir!"
Elkins Mayor Van Broughton presents the key to the city to Medal of Honor recipient Hershel Woodrow ‘Woody’ Williams during Saturday’s Marine Corps League Department of West Virginia State Convention Grand Banquet. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Brad Johnson)
"I receive such a warm welcome not for what I did, but for what other marines did," Williams said after dropping the character and addressing the crowd as himself.
"I wear the medal in their honor. It really belongs to them. I am just the caretaker.
"You raised your hand and took that oath, just like I did," Williams told the veterans in attendance.
"You can take my life, but you can't take my freedom."
Williams said America still faces many challenges and threats "from abroad and from within."
"The World War II veteran is a vanishing breed," he said. "Soon he will fade into oblivion, just as the World War I veteran did.
"We had plenty of warnings before Pearl Harbor, but did we listen? No. Will we listen now?"
Williams said the country needs to care for the "influx of injured veterans" from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have to be concerned about them," he said. "Not just about their health but about how they can stay busy."
Williams asked for a show of hands of everyone who'd lost a relative in the armed forces.
"Thank you for your sacrifice and what you gave," he told them. "May God continue to bless this great country."
After his comments, Williams was presented with the key to the city by Elkins Mayor Van Broughton.
When the two met Saturday afternoon, Broughton said, "I looked down at him, and he looked up at me. But I told him, 'I'm looking up to you.' Thank you, Woody, and thank you all for keeping this country free.'"