When Steve Bonapfel, Stationary Engineer at the Centers for Disease Control Alice Hamilton facility in Ohio, attended a gun show a few years ago, he didn't know that it would result in him traveling around the country to help dedicate monuments. At the gun show, Steve met Hershel "Woody" Williams, who was signing books. Woody earned the Medal of Honor in the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II by taking out seven Japanese bunkers with a flame thrower.
On his table, Woody had a display with a picture of monuments he was trying to have built to honor Gold Star Families. Steve and Woody started talking about Woody's foundation
(the Hershel Woody
Williams Medal of Honor Foundtaion) and Steve was reminded of a song he wrote for a woman he knew who lost a son in Afghanistan. Steve quoted lyrics from "The Last Parade" to Woody. "They got kind of quiet and one of the men with Woody stepped forward and said, 'Could I have your phone number?' They called me a couple of weeks later and said Mr. Williams would like you to go with him to dedicate two monuments on Memorial Day."
Since then, Steve has traveled with Woody to dedicate a dozen monuments, and another 30 are under construction currently. Even at 94, Woody strives for more
- his goal is to have a monument constructed in all 50 states.
In addition to the monument dedications, Steve
has also worked with Woody to fundraise for the
monuments, as well as to sing after the
Christening of the USNS Hershel "'Woody''
Williams at the Navy base in San Diego, CA and
the dedication of the Hershel "Woody" Williams
Armed Forces Reserve Center, the only National
Guard facility in the country named after a
"If it's not a day off or a holiday, I take my
vacation time or whatever it takes to do it,"
explains Steve. "I am just glad to help - Those people did a lot, so the least we could do is show appreciation. As Mr. Williams says, 'If we don't show our appreciation to people who do so much, people might think twice about making such a sacrifice.'"
Hershel "Woody" Williams: His Story
When WWII broke out, Woody tried to join the Marines, but, at 5'6, he was told he was too short. He took a job driving a taxi, but was too young to haul passengers, so they gave him a job delivering telegrams, which was a trying job during the war. "Here he was, an 18-year-old boy, delivering bad news to a lot of people, that their son had been killed," says Steve. "There was no preacher, official or even a 'grownup' to deliver the news, so he saw a lot of grieving families and it stuck with him."
A couple of years later, he hadn't grown an inch, but he tried to join the Marines again, and they took him. He fought in a lot of battles in the Pacific, but it was in the Battle of Iwo Jima that six flame throwers were killed ahead of him on the battlefield, so Woody stepped up and took the job. Covered only by four riflemen, he fought desperately for 4.5 hours under terrific enemy small-arms fire to wipe out one position after another.
Following the War, Woody worked at the Department for Veterans Affairs for 33 years. In addition to the Armed Forces Reserves Center, Woody also lends his name to the USNS Hershel "Woody" Williams mobile base sea vessel, which is expected to enter Navy service in early 2018.
"He is a living legend," says Steve. "Even the President has to salute anyone with a Medal of Honor."
On a lighter note, Woody graced the Super Bowl with his presence by administering the coin toss this February.
Steve Bonapfel's Music Career
In addition to his excellent work at FSE, Steve has been playing Bluegrass music for about 20 years. Steve has written and recorded approximately 50 original songs, as well as covered about 150 songs. "The Last Parade," Steve's most well-known song, was not only a local hit in 2009, but it was also covered by Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, a national group with a record label behind them. "The song went to Number 1 for them, and the song went to Song of the Year in 2016, which got me a nice little trophy too," says Steve.
Additionally, when Steve recorded
"The Last Parade" in 2009, "there was a young lady in my band who sang with me on that CD and her name is Carly Pearce," says Steve. "She left our band right after that and went to Nashville." Carly recently enjoyed a Number 1 song and is now touring with Blake Shelton and Luke Bryant. "She got her start with us!" Steve exclaims. "She sang with us for six years, pretty much a kid.
We helped her learn the guitar and develop her skills."
Steve enjoys being a "weekend warrior musician" because there is no pressure to roll out new CDs, "so I can have fun."
Additionally, Steve used to do the Gary Burbank Show on WLW radio after work before Gary retired.
"Anyway, I feel so absolutely honored to get to have anything to do with Mr. Williams' mission," says Steve. "What a great job to go around telling people thank you."