Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams’ Great-Grandson Just Graduated from Boot Camp

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel “Woody” Williams is the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient of World War II. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Alexa M. Hernandez)

Newly minted Marine Cedar Ross has a huge legacy to live up to. Ross just graduated from boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, with 349 other new boots. Attending his graduation ceremony was Hershel “Woody” Williams, a Marine Corps veteran and the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War II.

"The chief drill instructor told me, 'Ross, you're going to have big shoes to fill,'" Ross told CBS News. "I said, 'Yes, sir. Thankfully, I wear size 15.'"

Williams isn’t a Marine Corps legend just for receiving the Medal of Honor, although that’s more than enough. He received it for his actions during the Battle of Iwo Jima, one of the Marine Corps’ most important and defining moments. It was also one of the most deadly battles in the history of the Corps.

If you know anything about the history of the Marine Corps, that’s a pretty big statement.

Read: 6 Reasons Why the Battle of Iwo Jima Is So Important to Marines

One of the keys to the Marines’ success on the island was the flamethrower. The Japanese defenders spent months turning the entire island into a fortress, complete with a network of fortified bunkers, concrete pillboxes and reinforced tunnels.

Flamethrowing tanks, like the M4A3 Sherman, and Marines with handheld flamethrowers were critical to clearing out these redoubts. But while the Sherman tanks could resist bullets, the tanks on the back of flamethrowing Marines could not. Even Williams will tell you the life expectancy for a flamethrower Marine like himself on Iwo Jima was about five minutes.

Williams improvised, adapted and overcame that life expectancy by forming a flamethrower team with him at the center and a fire team of four other Marines providing cover. He carried his 70-pound tank of fuel into contact with the enemy at close range multiple times over the span of four hours, clearing enemy positions and returning to the rear to refuel.

Flamethrowers like Williams turned what looked like a stalemate into a complete rout. The Japanese couldn’t hide from a room full of gasoline-fueled fire coming at them at a relatively high velocity. Williams received the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman during a White House ceremony on Oct. 5, 1945.

Also: The Last Battle for Iwo Jima Legend Woody Williams, Only Surviving WWII Medal of Honor Recipient

At age 97, Williams appeared at Parris Island clad in his dress blues to watch his great-grandson, 20-year-old Cedar Ross, pass in review during his graduation ceremony. Williams was made an honorary official for the parade and saluted the new recruits as they passed.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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