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WWII Medal of Honor recipient's state funeral happened with the help of a young girl from Dallas

"It was really a true blessing getting to know him," Rabel McNutt said of Hershel 'Woody' Williams. "And we want to thank everyone for their sacrifice they gave."

DALLAS — That fact that Hershel "Woody" Williams received the honor to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda is remarkable in and of itself. 

On Thursday, he became the first enlisted U.S. serviceman ever to be given that honor. But how it happened is its own remarkable story too.

Several years ago, a young girl in Dallas named Rabel McNutt mourned the passing of her godfather -- a man named Walt Ehlers and a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in the D-Day invasion of France. 

To prepare her for what military funerals would be like, including the 21-gun salute that might startle a young child, Rabel's parents watched YouTube videos with her to show her what the event might include. 

But it led Rabel to ask her parents a simple question: Would Walt Ehlers receive one of those big state funerals and lie in the Capitol rotunda, just like presidents and generals sometimes do?

"Are they going to do a big funeral in Washington D.C. for Uncle Ehlers and his friends," Bill McNutt remembers his daughter, then just an elementary student, asking. 

"We feel great pride in the fact that here's a little girl who had a big idea," her Bill McNutt said.

Because her big idea became worldwar2salute.org, and was joined by other like-minded volunteers and business leaders from across the country with the mission "to convince the President of the United States to designate a state funeral for the last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, as a final salute to the 16 million men and women of the greatest generation who served in our armed forces from 1941 to 1945."

Credit: AP
FILE - Woody Williams, 94, the only living Marine Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, gets ready to assist with the coin toss, before the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died Wednesday, June 29, 2022. He was 98. Williams' foundation announced on Twitter and Facebook that he died at the Veterans Affairs medical center bearing his name in Huntington. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

Herschel "Woody" Williams, a Marine, a hero of the battle of Iwo Jima and the last living Medal of Honor recipient from WWII, was also Walt Ehlers' best friend.

Williams became a friend and mentor to young Rabel. And a few months back, thanked Rabel in a brief video.

"Hello Rabel! We appreciate all you do," he said. "And thanks for your idea of having this honor that maybe that I may receive," he said with a laugh. "Hopefully we get it approved."

And Rabel McNutt and her family were at the funeral in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to witness the honor finally coming true, for Woody Williams' family and for every other military family too.

"He was a humble man. Very kind," Rabel said. "It was really a true blessing getting to know him. And he taught me so many valuable things. And we want to thank them, thank everyone, for their sacrifice that they gave."

"I'm very proud of her," her mom Susana McNutt said. "She's a very persistent young lady. It was a very united movement to make this happen."

Credit: courtesy Carry the Load
Hershel 'Woody" Williams with s flamethrower in WWII

To the very end of his 98 years, Woody Williams dedicated his life to honoring WWII families. Gold Star Memorials across the country were his doing. 

He was also a frequent collaborator with the organizers of the Dallas non-profit Carry the Load, which featured Williams in a recent documentary.

Credit: McNutt Family

"And maybe encourage somebody to do something they never dreamed they would do for the benefit of others," he said of his motivation to continue honoring members of the U.S. military and their families.

Just like a young girl from Dallas did, not wanting any soldier and their sacrifice to ever fade away.

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