Editor's note: This article was originally published on Oct. 24, 2019.
Nothing will make your heart soar like hearing the "The Star-Spangled Banner" ring out at a sporting event, so when 46 living Medal of Honor recipients descended upon the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida for a puck drop at a recent hockey game, we're guessing it probably felt like a million bald eagles screaming "America!" all at once.
On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning hosted 46 of the nation's 70 living Medal of Honor recipients at the team's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The attendees included nine veterans from the Global War on Terrorism, 34 from Vietnam, two from the Korean War, and WWII veteran, Cpl. Hershel "Woody" Williams, one of the oldest living recipients of the country's highest award for valor. During the Battle of Iwo Jima, Williams repeatedly assaulted Japanese bunkers and fighting positions armed with a flamethrower and demolition charges in order to clear the way for Marines who remained pinned down under brutal enemy fire.
To mark the start of the game, Williams — joined by his fellow recipients, sporting matching Lightning jerseys — conducted the ceremonial puck drop:
"What these gentlemen have accomplished and what they've given to our country is unbelievable," Lightning's owner Jeff Vinik
told the Tampa Bay Times. "This isn't just the Lightning and Amalie Arena hosting these heroes here. This is the entire community who's made them feel at home."
In a previous interview with Task & Purpose, Williams recounted how he fought the enemy at point-blank range as a 21-year-old Marine corporal, facing bayonet charges from Japanese soldiers and machine gun fire from enemy pillboxes.
Despite his heroism, Williams said that he'd make one change to his award citation: That he "went forward alone."
"Number one, I was not alone," Williams said. "Number two, if it hadn't been for the Marines supporting me, shooting at the Japanese in order to keep them from being able to shoot me, and killing some of the Japanese that were shooting at me, I have no assurance that I would be here."
"This medal does not belong to me. I wear it in honor of those Marines who gave their life protecting mine," he added. "I do it for them. Without them I could not have achieved what I did. I don't do it for me."