D-Day: Widow of African-American soldier who served in only all-black unit fights for Medal of Honor
The widow of an African-American veteran who served in one of the only black combat units on D-Day has been fighting for years to get her husband a Medal of Honor.
Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr. was a 21-year-old West Philadelphia native and medic when he and thousands of other Americans landed on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944.
In the morning hours of June 6, 1944, Woodson and other soldiers were on a boat that was struck by a shell. The shrapnel ended up hitting Woodson in the thigh and buttocks, while the soldier next to him was killed, according to Time.
Another medic on the boat put dressings on Woodson’s wounds. The pair and three other medics eventually got to Omaha Beach while crouching behind a tank. They were the first African-American men to set foot on the sand.
The young medic endured the pain of his wounds and ended up saving as many as 200 lives that day, according to the Chester County Press.
Woodson was part of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, which was the only African-American combat unit that served on D-Day, according to the U.S. Army.
The group secured hydrogen-filled balloons over Omaha and Utah beaches to stop German fighter pilots. The balloons were anchored to the ground with steel cables that could incapacitate the planes and small bombs were placed right underneath the balloons, according to Time.
Author Linda Hervieux, who wrote a book on the black heroes who served on D-Day, wrote that Woodson was nominated for the Medal of Honor. In a note, he was initially recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, but U.S. General John C.H. Lee upgraded the recommendation to the Medal of Honor. It was unclear what happened to the nomination.
Woodson died in 2005 at the age of 83 and his marble tombstone lists his final Army ranking – staff sergeant – as well as highest accolades, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
But since then, his wife Joann Woodson, 90, has been fighting to have her husband’s heroism recognized. She and the rest of Woodson's family created a petition on MoveOn.org, calling for President Donald Trump to award Woodson his medal.
The petition states that his medal would be donated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr. has also pushed for the Army to award Woodson his medal, but the military branch hasn’t changed its mind. Much of Woodson’s World War II file is missing and the Army has cited this as a reason for denying him the medal, according to Time.
Much of the records from World War II are gone. A fire in 1973 destroyed a majority of the records at the Army’s Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, while the rest are at the National Archives.
On the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, Woodson and two other veterans were invited by the French government on an all-expenses-paid trip to Normandy. They were awarded a small medal commemorating their service, and Woodson was the only black man.
While it's still a fight for Woodson's medal, two U.S. senators introduced a bipartisan bill that would retroactively award the Medal of Honor to some World War I minority veterans who never received recognition for their service.
The bill, dubbed World War I Valor Medals Review Act, requires the Department of Defense along with the WWI Centennial Commission's Valor Medals Review Task Force to look over all valor medals awarded to minority veterans during WWI to determine whether any of them should have received the Medal of Honor instead.
Any minority veteran who should have received the medal would be recommended by Army and Navy secretaries to the president.