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Woody Williams shares the story of his MOH action

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the most iconic images of the United States Marine Corps is the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. West Virginia native Woody Williams was there the day it happened. During a 2019 interview with MetroNews on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the event, Williams explained he didn’t get to actually see it because he had his back turned.

“I saw it immediately after it was up. The reason I saw it was there were Marines around me who began yelling, screaming, and jumping up and firing their weapons in the air. I didn’t see it go up, but I turned and it was the bigger flag, the second one that went up, so we could see it. I was about a thousand yards away. So I began doing the same thing they were doing, firing my weapon and celebrating Old Glory is on Mt. Surribachi,” Williams recalled.

Listen to “Woody Williams Interview from 2019” on Spreaker.

It would be later that day Williams put himself repeatedly in harm’s way to clear a path for Marines to continue their advance on another part of the island.

“They had us stalled. We couldn’t move. They’re inside protected and we’re outside trying to advance. Every time we tried to jump up and advance, they would just mow us down,” he said.

Williams and his commanding officer came up with a plan. Williams selected four riflemen to fire on the opening of each pill box as he crawled toward it with a flame thrower. Roughly the plan was to keep the Japanese soldiers’ heads down so he could get close enough to pour flames into the concrete bunkers.

“We tried to keep them from shooting at me. On some it worked, on others it didn’t, but they never touched me,” he said.

Using the daring method, Williams was able to eliminate seven of the Japanese gun emplacements and break the logjam so troops could advance.

“I used up six flame throwers and by that time, I was done. But once we eliminated those seven it left a hole so we could move on,” he said.

The whole incident took several hours under constant enemy fire. Williams was never touched by the enemy during the engagement. He always added the footnote to the story they got him a couple of days later.

Williams never shied from sharing the story with anybody wanting to know about it. He was proud of the accomplishment, but never gloated. He always paused to point out many others, including the four men he picked to cover him with rifle fire that day, were killed in the engagement.

“They said I did something that was a little outstanding, so my commanding officer recommended me for the Medal of Honor,” he said.

Williams considered the Medal an obligation to tell the story of those who did not make it home. He spent his life working to honor their memory. He also spent the rest of his life advocating for veterans with his work through the V-A and in later years working to erect monuments across the nation dedicated to the families of those killed in action. They were known as Gold Star Family Memorials. The first was installed in 2013 at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery

“This is a symbol and tribute to those families who lost a loved one because they gave more for our freedoms than I did,” Williams told MetroNews the day the marker was unveiled.

As of today, there are 103 of the monuments in place and 72 are under construction. They are located in all 50 states and one U.S. Territory.

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Active COVID cases statewide stay around 2,000

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Active COVID-19 cases remain unchanged in West Virginia.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources has reported active cases around the 2,000 level every day this week. There were 2,014 reported Wednesday.

Two new deaths have been added, bringing the pandemic death total to 7,059.

The DHHR confirmed the deaths of a 99 year old male from Wood County and an 83 year old female from Nicholas County.

“As we mourn the loss of these West Virginians, we must not lose sight of our power to prevent additional deaths and severe illness through vaccination and boosters,” DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch said in a Wednesday statement.

West Virginia has 216 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The current number of active cases per county is as follows: Barbour (8), Berkeley (109), Boone (36), Braxton (17), Brooke (12), Cabell (108), Calhoun (9), Clay (11), Doddridge (3), Fayette (69), Gilmer (3), Grant (15), Greenbrier (56), Hampshire (22), Hancock (32), Hardy (8), Harrison (81), Jackson (17), Jefferson (66), Kanawha (230), Lewis (10), Lincoln (13), Logan (39), Marion (84), Marshall (29), Mason (24), McDowell (33), Mercer (76), Mineral (28), Mingo (17), Monongalia (117), Monroe (15), Morgan (14), Nicholas (31), Ohio (39), Pendleton (1), Pleasants (8), Pocahontas (4), Preston (24), Putnam (85), Raleigh (85), Randolph (18), Ritchie (8), Roane (29), Summers (16), Taylor (20), Tucker (8), Tyler (6), Upshur (47), Wayne (29), Webster (9), Wetzel (17), Wirt (3), Wood (93), Wyoming (23).

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Charter schools report enrollment while preparing to open this fall

West Virginia’s first charter schools are reporting some enrollment gains as they move toward opening this fall.

West Virginia Academy in Morgantown has the highest enrollment so far with 458 students, officials said today.

Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy has 303 “verified enrollments.”

West Virginia Virtual Academy has 204 enrolled students so far.

And Virtual Prep Academy has 62 approved enrollments and 146 applications in progress.

James Paul

“So overall, across all four schools, there are more than 1,000 enrollments so far and another 500 to 1,000 expected by fall,” said James Paul, the executive director of the professional charter schools board.

Those figures were reported during a meeting today of the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board.

West Virginia has had no charter schools until now, after passing a state law allowing them in 2019. CharteWEstr schools would receive financial support from the state’s public education system and would be given greater operational latitude in exchange for the possibility of losing their right to operate if they fail.

Another school that had been approved, Nitro Preparatory Academy, is still looking for a location for classes and is planning an extension to open next year instead.

Paul also provided an update on starting dates for the schools.

West Virginia Academy opens August 2 for its secondary school and August 8 for its primary school.

Paul said the other three schools are opening on August 22.

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Having tasted success, Tyler Consolidated hopes to continue moving forward

Tyler Consolidated’s 2021-2022 boys basketball season wasn’t without significant accomplishments, perhaps the most notable of which was a sectional championship that the Silver Knights attained by virtue of a one-point win against Clay-Battelle.

TCHS finished 15-10 and came within one game, or more specifically one half, of the program’s second state tournament berth since 2002. Ultimately, the Silver Knights fell short in their quest to end the campaign in Charleston when they were outscored by 19 points in the second half of a Class A Region I co-final in a 49-38 season-ending setback to Cameron.

“We were up eight at halftime last season in the regional against Cameron and kind of let it slip away,” Silver Knights’ head coach Steven Nutter said. “That left a bad taste in our mouth. Right now, Tyler is a November to March basketball school and we’re still trying to build the program to where we’re playing twelve months a year where it’s a priority and we’re able to grow the program a little bit.”

The Silver Knights had four seniors on last season’s roster, though two — Caleb Strode and Haygen Baker — were responsible for approximately half of the team’s scoring, according to Nutter.

Strode was a Class A first-team all-state selection each of his last two seasons at Tyler and wrapped up his successful prep career with a 21.3 scoring average last season.

“We’re probably not going to have anybody that averages 21 and 11 [rebounds] a game,” Nutter said.

There are unquestionably big shoes to fill, but the Silver Knights’ approach has left Nutter impressed. During the three-week summer period, TCHS has competed in a 12-game league at Williamstown, hosted its own 20-team shootout and played in Robert C. Byrd’s Shootout. The Silver Knights were also to play this week at the Elite Center in Parkersburg.

“We’re going to have to play 94 feet, create chaos and get it up and down the floor,” Nutter said. “We have a really good group of guards and a nice group of athletes and they’ll do whatever is asked. They condition hard in practice, run a lot in practice and do a lot of skill work and work on little things. They’re a good group of kids that’ll get after it and they’re hungry to win.”

At the forefront of that group is rising senior Connor Bailey, a point guard who will be a three-year starter and four-year varsity player. The southpaw is not only being counted on for more on court production, but the loss of a successful senior class leaves behind a leadership void that Nutter has seen Bailey assume more of.

“He’s played outstanding all summer and he’s been a leader to the young kids,” Nutter said. “He’s really tried to teach them and coach them as we’ve gone. He hasn’t been one of those main leaders, because he hasn’t had to be. Now, he’s had to step into that role and he’s embraced it.”

Bailey was one of six juniors on last season’s squad, as was Hayden Brown, an interior presence expected to fill some of the void Strode leaves behind while returning from injury.

Nutter’s team should benefit from its experience, though the head coach is also a believer in the program’s younger players rising through the ranks.

“We have some younger guys that have committed themselves to basketball and some really good middle school coaches that have been coaching the guys up and bringing them through the system,” he said.

Having inexperienced players work with more experienced players has been a focal point of Nutter’s during a three-week period the coach feels Tyler has largely gotten what it hoped to out of it.

“It’s nice really in the summer and this three-week period, we just try to get these guys together to mesh some of the younger kids with the older kids,” Nutter said. “We’re not doing anything in particular on defense. We’re really just trying to play some man, get them to learn how to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

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Woody Williams dead at 98

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams died Wednesday morning at the VA hospital near Huntington named in his honor. Williams was 98.

The Woody Williams Family Foundation posted a message Tuesday indicating the West Virginia native was in his last days. The foundation said he died at 3:15 a.m. Wednesday surrounded by family members.

“Woody’s family would like to express their sincere gratitude for all of the love and support. They would also like to share that Woody’s wish is that the people continue to carry on his mission.”

That mission includes the recognition of Gold Star families who have given loved ones in military service. The foundation has put up dozens of Gold Star Family monuments around the country. Williams attended many of the ceremonies in person.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, and Woody Williams sharing a moment earlier this year. (Office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin)

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a close friend, said he visited Williams one last time last Sunday.

“We called VA Secretary Denis McDonough so he could thank Woody directly for his unparalleled service to our nation,” Manchin said in a statement released Wednesday. “In true Woody fashion, he wanted to discuss the importance of completing the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar – his most recent Veterans project – to ensure that the families of our fallen soldiers and Veterans have a safe place to lay their loved ones to rest, protected from the weather throughout the year. I am determined to carry on the legacy of my dear friend by getting the shelter built.”

Manchin also reflected on the many hours he spent with Williams.

“I will miss riding with Woody during our annual motorcycle ride for Gold Star Families; he was always my wingman. One of my most cherished memories with Woody is traveling to California and Virginia with him when his ship was commissioned and christened. During those moments, Woody showed the world the true nature of being a West Virginian with his humility and grace. As the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient, Woody represented the last of the Greatest Generation. With the passing of Woody, their legacies and honor are laid to rest,” Manchin said.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito said West Virginia lost one of its proudest sons and a true hero Wednesday.

“I am so sad to learn that my friend Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, passed away at the age of 98,” Capito’s statement said. “Woody embodied exactly what the Greatest Generation was all about: Service to country above self. Not only are his acts of valor on the battlefield well-documented, but the lives he touched in the years since serving had a lasting impact on every person he met. He inspired many to love their country, enter the service, and reminded everyone why our ‘nation under God’ is the greatest on earth. One of the best West Virginians we’ve ever known is now gone, but his lifetime of service and incredible legacy will be with us forever.”

A war hero

Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor for his exploits on Iwo Jima during World War II. He took out seven Japanese gun emplacements, or “pill boxes” with a flame thrower. His actions gave Marines a foothold to advance. His heroic action came the same day of the iconic raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi.

Hershel “Woody” Williams not long after receiving the Medal of Honor

Williams told MetroNews in an October 2019 interview that he didn’t see it at first.

“I saw it immediately after it was up and the reason was Marines around me started jumping up and firing their weapons and yelling about a flag,” said Williams. “I was about a thousand yards away.”

Williams lived through the Great Depression, but said his family was no worse off than anyone else. He grew up on a dairy farm outside Fairmont and every day of his young life his family would load up milk and other farm products they produced and take them into the city to peddle door to door.

“Very few people had an automobile, but we had a Model-A Ford which was our farm vehicle. My dad said it was a work vehicle and we couldn’t use it for anything but that, so everywhere we went, we walked,” he said.

Williams marveled ad the advancement in communication remembering having to ask an operator to connect his telephone to another on the country party line. Advancements in medicine also amazed him.

“When I came home from World War II, the average age was 48 yeas old. During the Depression we had not doctors, we had no medical care. You took care of yourself and treated yourself with home remedies,” he said.

Life well-lived

Williams was 96 in the 2019 interview. He contributed his longevity and quality of life to his regimen of exercise which he said came from the Marine Corps.

“They give you a vaccination which makes you do PT every day and I still do it every morning,” laughed Williams.

In addition to just clean living and exercise, he credits a boss from the 1960’s for giving him a home remedy which seemed to have sustaining value.

“There’s no scientific evidence around it, but his dad was an old country doctor in Blacksburg, Virginia and told him when he was 16 years old if he wanted to maintain good health and lots of energy drink vinegar and honey every morning. I figured it it did it for him, it will do it for me and I’ve been doing that ever since,” Williams said.

Reaction pours in

Gov. Jim Justice expressed his gratitude and condolences in a Wednesday statement.

Gov. Jim Justice

“I ask all West Virginians to join Cathy and I in praying for Woody, his family, friends, loved ones, and the entire military community across West Virginia and the United States of America. Pray that, while the weight of this loss is profound, we all will be able to take solace in the fact that Woody’s contributions to our nation inspired generations, cultivated similar bravery, and saved lives. Woody Williams will go down in history as one of the greatest West Virginians who ever lived, and we salute him for everything he gave to our state and our nation.”

This is a developing story and will be updated during the day. 

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MetroNews This Morning 6-29-22

Today is the 10th anniversary of the 2012 Derecho–one of the most memorable storms in state history. A 1975 court injunction to West Virginia’s law banning abortion appears to still be in place–and according to some makes that law unenforceable even though Roe V. Wade is no longer in place. There will be another school board election in Doddridge County due to a mistake in early voting. Family member indicate Woody Williams, the state’s only living Medal of Honor recipient, is in failing health. In Sports, more recruiting gains for the Mountaineers and Kyle Wiggs has major league baseball scores. These stories and more in today’s MetroNews This Morning podcast.

Listen to “MetroNews This Morning 6-29-22 (chris.lawrence)” on Spreaker.

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The Long Road Ahead for West Virginia Democrats

New West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Mike Pushkin has his work cut out for him, and he knows it.

“It’s about work ethic and we’re going to have people who want to show up and work and get that message out that we are the real party of West Virginia values,” Pushkin said on Talkline last week.

His enthusiasm is commendable, and necessary. The state’s Democratic Party has been on a precipitous slide for years, losing seat after seat in the legislature and positions on the state Board of Public Works.

For decades, Democrats could depend on a massive advantage in voter registration to maintain majorities, but that has steadily disappeared like a summer sunset behind the West Virginia hills.

The most recent voter registration figures from the Secretary of State’s Office show there are now 59,015 more Republicans than Democrats—442,476 to 383,461.  That’s a 39 percent to 34 percent advantage.  Twenty-three percent (262,464) are independent or have no party affiliation.

Thirty-four of West Virginia’s 55 counties now have Republican majorities.  Just five years ago, Democrats held majorities in 41 counties. And in 2017, there were 149,000 more Democrats than Republicans.

There has been a national swing toward the GOP as well.

An Associated Press analysis of voter registration found that “more than one-million voters across 43 states have switched to the Republican Party over the last year.  The previously unreported number reflects a phenomenon that is playing out in virtually every region of the country.”

The AP reports the shift coincides with events during the Biden presidency and the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party.

One voter interviewed by the AP, Ben Smith from Colorado, said his party switch was “more a rejection of the left than embracing the right.” Another voter, Jessica Kroells, also from Colorado, told the AP that the Democratic Party had “left me behind.”

We have heard that sentiment in West Virginia for years now, particularly as the national Democratic Party became more liberal on environmental and social issues. Large numbers of moderate to conservative Democrats have switched to the Republican Party, become independent, or simply died off.

Chairman Pushkin maintains it is the Democratic Party that represents the real values of West Virginians, but he admits the party “hasn’t done a great job getting the message out.”  He said the party has recruited people who will do that.

Well, a long journey begins with first steps.  The party needs strong top-of-the-ticket candidates to energize voters or an improved local candidate recruitment and campaign effort—or both—to stanch the bleeding.

That is not impossible. West Virginia Republicans did it over a two decade period, overcoming a serious numerical disadvantage.  However, at this moment, despite Pushkin’s enthusiasm, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the Mountain State switches back from red to blue any time soon.

 

 

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Derecho hit W.Va. 10 years ago today

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Most West Virginias were getting ready for the weekend on June 29, 2012. The weather was clear on a Friday afternoon, but there was the chance for thunderstorms, some of them potentially strong, for the evening.

During the mid afternoon hours, a line of storms like nobody had ever seen crossed the Ohio River and left a trail of destruction from Columbus, Ohio to Virginia Beach in a diagonal direction. Very little of the Mountain State was spared.

“As I was sitting in the front door, it actually ripped the roof off of my porch and flipped it up onto the roof,” one eye witness told MetroNews.

Another shared the rapid transition.

“Just watching brown clouds blow in, then the transformer blew. Wind hit me and I fell on the ground covered in debris. I ran up on the porch and saw debris flying down the street,” said another witness.

The storm didn’t last long–but the destructive power was unprecedented. More than 650,000 West Virginians were instantly out of power and close to 85 percent of the state’s population was affected in some way.

“We’ve had storms that have had hundreds of thousands of customers out of service before, but never with the kind of damage we’ve had to our transmission system like we have this time,” said Mon Power President Jim Haney.

Appalachian Power company wasn’t much better.

“This system we built was built over decades. This storm took down a significant amount of that system and we’re trying to rebuild it in a week,” said Appalachian Power Company President Charles Patton.

What most didn’t know as the storm ripped through their neighborhood that Friday afternoon was they weren’t alone. It had ripped through everybody’s neighborhood in West Virginia with equal fury and destruction. It was something we came to know as a “derecho” as first described on the air during MetroNews continuous coverage  by Dr. Joe Sobel of Accuweather.

“This was not a bunch of different thunderstorms. This was one system, what we call a derecho, that formed out in the Plains states and moved steadily from west to east,” Sobel to MetroNews.

Listen to “Chris Lawrence Derecho 10th Anniversary” on Spreaker.
The storm moved rapidly, but chewed up everything in its path. Ancient trees were splintered, power lines, event the high 760 KV transmission lines were in a tangled heap beneath crumpled towers. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin immediately declared a state of emergency in nearly every West Virginia county. The National Guard was activated to help clear downed trees to get power crews into hard to reach locations for restoration. Elsewhere, National Guard troops delivered water, food, medicine, and set up cooling stations.

“I saw some of the most historic trees in West Virginia down and power lines down. There wasn’t a lot of physical damage to homes, but there was some,” said Alderson Mayor Joe Veazy at the time.

Teresa White with the Fayette County Office of Emergency Services echoed the same story heard almost statewide.

“There were trees and powerlines down. It was horrible,” she told MetroNews.

“It was an act of God and we’ve just got to work through it,” said Governor Earl Ray Tomblin at the time.

It took more than ten days to fully restore the power service across the state. With the exception of the most northern parts of the northern panhandle, the destruction across West Virginia from the 2012 Derecho was absolute and no community was spared. It remains one of the single largest disasters which impacted the highest number of people in state history.

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Hess reflects on time as Jackson County Schools superintendent

RIPLEY, W.Va. — Blaine Hess’ tenure as superintendent of Jackson County Schools will end this week.

Blaine Hess (File)

Hess’ education career will end on Thursday with his retirement from the superintendent position. He has led the school system since 2006.

Hess told MetroNews affiliate WMOV-AM that he is proud of the district’s progress over his 16 years of leadership.

“We improved in several areas,” he said. “We improved in academics, our standing in the state in terms of our rankings. We improved in our facilities, and we improved in our technology and our services to kids.”

Hess added the progress would not have happened without the efforts of Jackson County educators and community members.

“I hope it was a period of improvement over these last 16 years,” he said.

Will Hosaflook, who most recently led Wood County Schools, will become Jackson County Schools’ superintendent on Friday.

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Advocates urge Congress to address health insurance subsidies as rising costs loom

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thousands of West Virginians who purchase health insurance coverage through the enrollment marketplace could face higher costs if Congress does not renew subsidies before the next coverage period.

Health care advocates are pushing for West Virginia’s federal lawmakers to act. According to estimates from the federal government, if action is not taken on the current subsidies, 18,000 West Virginians will have to pay more for insurance coverage with others becoming uninsured.

“Congress actually can act to mitigate these increasing costs that we expect to come down in 2023,” Jessica Ice, the executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told reporters on Tuesday.

Congress approved the subsidies in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure. The bill included language extending premium tax credits to households with incomes more than 400% above the federal poverty level.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, enrollment in the federal health insurance marketplace reached a record 14.5 million people in the most recent open enrollment period.

The subsidies will expire before the next year’s insurance plans take effect if lawmakers do not act.

“If the ARP premium tax credit provisions are allowed to sunset, these consumer benefits will be eliminated, likely leading to increases in the number of uninsured and higher out-of-pocket costs for individuals and families purchasing insurance through the Marketplace,” analysts wrote in a Department of Health and Human Services report.

Around 23,000 West Virginians purchased health insurance through the marketplace during last year’s enrollment period. According to the federal agency, if Congress does not extend the subsidies, an estimated 5,000 people will become uninsured. An additional 18,000 residents will pay more for insurance coverage because of reduced or eliminated subsidies.

“Everybody that we’ve talked to has benefited from these enhanced subsidies,” said Jeremy Smith, program director for First Choice Services, which offers insurance enrollment assistance.

Smith previously told MetroNews that the most significant increases in enrollment in the last period involved small business owners and older residents unable to enroll in Medicare. He cited lower insurance rates as a factor in last year’s overall enrollment numbers.

“We’re really hopeful that they can continue into next year because it really does make a difference,” he said Tuesday.

The change in insurance costs would come amid concerns about inflation. The U.S. Department of Labor earlier this month reported a consumer price index of 8.6%, a new 40-year high.

“With high inflation, we must protect West Virginians from higher health care premiums,” Ice said. “Families are already struggling with record-high inflation.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted for the American Rescue Plan as West Virginia’s other congressional delegates opposed the bill. The current push comes as Democrats have control of Congress, although with a split Senate and a slim majority in the House of Representatives.

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