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Flag’s role focus of hero’s speech

SOUTH POINT — They came into the gym at South Point High to a roaring, foot-stomping hero’s welcome that seemed to hit the rafters. Those veterans who served their country from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom were honored guests at the high school’s Veterans Day assembly and they knew it.

“If someone believes patriotism is dead, they should come to South Point,” Hershel “Woody” Williams, Medal of Honor recipient told the assembly of teens. “Most of us have never had a welcome like that.”

Williams, who was the keynote speaker for the assembly, was part of the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal during World War II, trained as a demolition man and in use of the flamethrower.

It was at Iwo Jima where he performed the heroic actions that brought him the Medal of Honor, facing enemy fire over and over to help the infantry get passage.

And it was those days at Iwo Jima that served as a backdrop for Williams’ speech that focused on his losing fight to get an amendment passed that would make desecration of the American flag unconstitutional.

“Today we cannot be prosecuted for desecrating the flag,” he said. “We can be arrested for disturbing the peace, but not for burning the flag. That flag is not just a piece of cloth; it represents life.”

It was on Feb. 23, 1945 when the American flag was planted on Iwo Jima, an action that was the centerpiece of one of the most famous photographs of World War II.

Williams was 1,000 yards up the beach when those Marines raised the flag.

“I had no idea what was going on because of the chaos going on around me,” he recalled.

However, his fellow Marines could see the flag going up and began shouting. When Williams turned around, he joined in the cheering.

“There on top of Mt. Suribachi flew the greatest flag in the world,” he said.

“What an impact it had when we looked up and saw our flag. It reinstilled in us the courage and commitment that we were going to win and win we did.”