Williams’ foundation leader in establishing permanent Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments

John Veasey
Times West Virginian

PHOTOS

“Woody” Williams came to Fairmont Thursday, apparently to receive an honor from UPS. UPS through its Wishes Delivered program transported the more than 13,000 pounds of black granite monument from Georgia to West Virginia saving the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation the transportation cost.

The Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation was established in 2012 as a not-for-profit charitable 501(c)(3). The foundation, with assistance of the American public and community leaders, is a leader in establishing permanent Gold Star Family Memorial Monuments.

A Gold Star Family is any family member of members of the Armed Forces of the United States who sacrificed their life for the U.S. way of life and the American flag under which they served.

But there was more news coming from yesterday’s visit as the Congressional Medal of Honor winner learned his best childhood friend’s body had been recovered from where he died and returned to Fairmont for burial back in 1949.

The family of Leonard Brown surprised Williams Thursday at the new Marion County Armed Services Center bearing his name with the announcement of Williams’ best friend being buried here. Williams never knew.

Leonard Brown died at the age of 23 after the nose of the plane he was on was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Brown died of his wounds five days later but had not been listed as one of Marion County’s war casualties because he didn’t die directly when shot down.

Williams and Brown both grew up and lived near each other on the East Grafton Road.

Both young men attempted to enter military service, but Williams was rejected by the Marines and went into the Air Force, while Brown went into the Army Air Force. Williams later became a Marine when that branch of service changed its height restrictions.

Brown was the son of George Willie Brown and Mary Catherine Gooch. He was the youngest of six children.

On June 1, 1945, Brown was on a daylight bombing mission as the nose terret gunner in a B-24 Liberator. The target was a major Japanese Navy base at Mako.

Just prior to the bomb release, the nose of the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Leonard was severely wounded and died five days later.

His body was buried in a military cemetery in the Philippines and remained there for nearly four years. On Feb. 25, 1949, his body was returned to Fairmont, and was buried the next day in Woodlawn Cemetery.

The military, for some reason, does not include him as a casualty of war. And we suspect that a number of the deceased veterans that people have inquired about in regard to casualty lists and the bricks on Veterans’ Square, could have similar circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Some members of the Brown family were there. Bob and Joyce Brown, who live across from North Marion High School, attended as Leonard Brown was Bob’s uncle although he was born after Leonard’s death.

Williams said he never realized that Brown’s body had been found or that it had been sent back to Fairmont for burial four years later.

Asked why the Fairmont Marine had not heard about this, Patrick O’Leary, veterans affairs manager who coordinated the program, said that “Williams was out West then and they didn’t even have telephones.”

“And calling people cost money then,” Williams joked.

The ceremonies were filmed by a special UPS crew and the public didn’t attend.

The remainder of the program was strictly informal.

Also attending was  Brig. Gen. Charles R. Veit, Assistant adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.

A man who was called upon numerous times during the week to help with the planning was Frank Urso, whose wife Mary K. Urso was a member of the Brown family.

On Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Hershel “Woody” Williams Armory located at 201 Artillery Drive the drill hall will be renamed The Leonard Brown Memorial Drill Hall. And the Gold Star Family Monument will be dedicated.