By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “How we got here today is the result of Medal of Honor recipient Herschel ‘Woody’ Williams calling me up one morning, and asking me to join him at Bob Evans.”
That’s what Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, told those gathered at the Culture Center in Charleston Wednesday for the inaugural West Virginia Medal of Valor ceremony.
“Woody shared with me that the State of West Virginia did not have an ultimate honor, like the Medal of Honor, for our first responders,” Linville said. “He felt like that should happen.”
As Linville explained, West Virginia Medal of Valor recipients are selected much the same as those awarded the national Medal of Honor, noting that, “People are reviewed, their actions are reviewed, a recommendation is made to the legislative body that they should take action, and that then the chief executive – in this case Gov. Jim Justice – award the Medal of Valor.”
“Woody lived his life in service to others,” Linville said. “I would ask every recipient that we still have with us to do the same. President Reagan once said, ‘The people who say we’re in a time where there are no heroes just don’t know where to look,’ I would tell you that if you look at the people we’re honoring today, these are real heroes from right here in West Virginia.”
Inaugural West Virginia Medal of Valor recipients include Patrolman Cassie Johnson, Corporal Marshall Bailey, Trooper Eric Workman, Deputy John Westfall, Sgt. Thomas E. Baker III, Firefighter John Dean Forbush, and Firefighter James W. Spencer.
“Through conspicuous gallantry and intrepedity in the performance of their duties at the risk of their own lives, people receive this medal,” Linville concluded. “Woody had his own humble and kind way of saying that even better: ‘The cause is greater than I.’ For each of these recipients, the cause was greater than them.”
On hand to present the medals was Gov. Justice, who said, “Today we have an inaugural class (of Medal of Valor recipients) of seven folks – five who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
“Too often they’re (first responders) underpaid, and too often they’re underappreciated,” Justice continued. “We need to do something about that, don’t we? We need to show them that not only do we appreciate them and that they’re deserving of fair wages, but we also need to show them just how much we will never forget them, and absolutely, with everything in us, that we love them.”
“It’s a big, big honor for me to be here,” Justice added. “I mean that from the very bottom of my heart. This is a monstrous honor for me to be here, and I could never be more proud.”
Patrolman Cassie Johnson of the Charleston Police Department was shot in the line of duty while responding to a parking complaint, eventually succumbing to her injuries on Dec. 3, 2020. Johnson served the people of Charleston for 23 months, and was 28-years-old at the time of her death.
Corporal Marshall Bailey and Trooper Eric Workman, both of the West Virginia State Police, and Deputy John Westfall of the Roane County Sheriff’s Department, came under fire after a traffic stop on Aug. 28, 2012. All three men were injured at the time of the shooting. Corporal Bailey and Trooper Workman succumbed to their injuries. Bailey was a 17-year veteran of the State Police, and was 42 at the time of his death. Workman, who had served the State Police for 19-months, was 26.
Sgt.Thomas E. Baker III, a 19-year veteran of the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Department, was fatally shot while responding to a domestic violence complaint on June 3, 2022. Baker was 48-years-old at the time of his death.
John Dean Forbush, a four-year veteran of the Gassaway Volunteer Fire Department, was lost while responding to an occupied vehicle which had driven into the Elk River on May 1, 2022. Forbush was 24-years-old at the time of his death.
Firefighter James W. Spencer of the Charleston Fire Department, while responding to a residential house fire on Jan. 30, 2022, successfully rescued two individuals who were trapped on the second floor of the house. Spencer acted to save these individuals without regard for his personal safety.
Del. Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, delivered the closing benediction. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Honaker, along with Del. Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, spoke with RealWV about the importance of remembering the brave actions of the Medal of Valor recipients, as well as all first responders.
“I think families and survivors sometimes think that after a while we’ve all forgotten,” Honaker said. “I think today is a reminder that we don’t forget. We still get up every day and we know that anyone who goes out and does something heroic, certainly when it costs them their last full measure, we remember that.”
Echoing Honaker’s sentiment, Tully said, “I’m very humbled that we do have these heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves for us everyday. They may not know our names, but they feel we are worthy for them to lay their lives down for us.”
“I’m very, very thankful for their families, and I pray that their families know truly how thankful we are, and how very blessed we are for the services that they’ve given,” Tully added
Photos by Matthew Young, RealWV.