US Army Refuses To Honor Black WWII Hero Who Saved 200 Lives On D-Day
On D-Day, Waverly Woodson Jr. saved the lives of 200 men on Normandy Beach after being injured, but the US Army has refused to honor him for 75 years.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of World War II's D-Day, the Congressional Black Caucus has restarted a push for war hero Waverly Woodson Jr. to be recognized as such by the US Army.
Woodson was one of the first Black soldiers to make it onto Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944. The 21-year-old's boat was hit by a mortar as they made it to the French shores and shrapnel tore apart one of his legs while killing the man next to him.
Woodson was a medic from Philadelphia with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only Black combat unit to participate in D-Day. After slapping a bandage on his gruesome wounds, he set up a medical tent and began treating the soldiers around him who were being hit by barrages of German gunfire.
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“The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s hit us,” Woodson told the AP in 1994.
“They were murder. Of our 26 Navy personnel, there was only one left. They raked the whole top of the ship and killed all the crew. Then they started with the mortar shells.”
Woodson ended up saving 200 soldiers of all races that day. He even pulled four men out of the water by himself and conducted CPR. He revived soldiers, performed amputations and spent hours pulling shrapnel or bullets out of wounds. He spent 30 hours saving lives before he passed out from his own wounds.
Meet 90-year old Joann Woodson. She's on a mission to share the truth about the participation of Black men on #DDay.— The Black Caucus (@OfficialCBC) June 6, 2019'
Her late husband, Waverly Woodson, was one of the few Black soldiers known to have served on Omaha Beach. #DDay75 https://t.co/PDWSWTCM2i
Thankfully, the US Army and Black newspapers at the time praised Woodson and lauded him for his service that day. However, he was never awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration, due to overt racism within the US Army's senior ranks.
One million Black soldiers served in World War 2 and not a single one ever received the Medal of Honor. Hundreds were given out.
Since Woodson died in 2005, his widow, Joann Woodson, and journalist, Linda Hervieux, have worked hard to get him the posthumous honor. They even got the help of Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen.
The Army has refused and said they need documentation of his activities in order to give him the medal. The problem, as Hervieux noted in her book Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, At Home and At War, is that all of the files on Woodson no longer exist because the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis burned down in a huge fire in 1973.
June 6, 1944, nearly 2000 black soldiers landed on Normandy’s beaches. Waverly Woodson was one of them. Wounded, he treated more than 200 fellow warriors & saved countless lives. Proud to share his story & @ChrisVanHollen efforts to get him a Medal of Honor on @CBSThisMorning pic.twitter.com/6xrWwRoVHQ— Vladimir Duthiers (@vladduthiersCBS) June 6, 2019'
Despite recent petitions, pushes from the Congressional Black Caucus and pressure from Senator Van Hollen, the Army refuses to budge. But there is hope. During her research for the book, Hervieux found a note from a senior US Army official telling the white house that President Franklin D. Roosevelt should personally award Woodson because of his actions.
“Here is a Negro from Philadelphia who has been recommended for a suitable award,” the unsigned note says. “This is a big enough award that the President can give it personally, as he has in the case of some white boys.”
The contributions of Black soldiers that day -- nearly 2,000 Black soldiers made it onto France's shores -- have largely been erased from films and history books. The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion had the specific job of sending large balloons into the sky to protect US soldiers against German planes.
"Despite the losses sustained, the battalion carried out its mission with courage and determination, and proved an important element of the air defense team," said General and future president Dwight Eisenhower at the time.
"I commend you and the officers and men of your battalion for your fine effort which has merited the praise of all who have observed it."
This effort was successful, and US generals praised the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion for being an indispensable part of the Army's plan to make it on shore.
"Something happened between his commanders deciding he should get the Distinguished Service Cross and be upgraded to the Medal of Honor, but we don't know what because those records are no longer there," Hervieux told ABC on Thursday.
"But Waverly Woodson's heroics on Omaha Beach were clearly ignored and forgotten because the Army was racist to its core."