US /

An Overlooked D-Day Hero Finally Gets His Due

WWII medic Waverly Woodson Jr. posthumously awarded Distinguished Service Cross
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2024 6:55 PM CDT
A 'Casualty of Racism,' D-Day Hero Finally Gets His Due
This image shows Waverly Woodson Jr., a combat medic who served in the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion on D-Day.   (National Geographic via AP)

For 30 hours, as mortar shells rained around him on Omaha Beach, Army medic Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr. treated wounded Allied soldiers, even while wounded himself. For that brave act, Woodson has been posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, "the second-highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the Army," per CNN. The fight for recognition carried on far longer than World War II itself. Woodson was shortlisted for the Medal of Honor in 1997 but was not selected due to a lack of documentation, according to Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who joined an effort to secure recognition of Woodson's bravery, "too long ... overlooked due to his race."

Woodson, who died in 2005, was part of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, "an all-Black unit tasked with deploying balloons to protect troops along the beaches of Normandy from German fighter planes during D-Day," per CNN. Van Hollen credits him with saving "an estimated 200 lives" on June 6, 1944, as Allied forces invaded Normandy, leading to the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi occupation. "Waverly would have felt honored to be recognized for what he knew was his duty," says his widow, 95-year-old Joann Woodson. "But we all know it was far more than duty; it was his desire to always help people in need."

Seriously injured when his boat hit a mine, Woodson swam to shore and made himself useful, amputating limbs, bandaging wounds, removing bullets, and performing blood plasma transfusions, despite the shrapnel injuries to his groin and back. "I had pulled a tent roll out of the water and so I set up a first-aid station," he later recalled, per Politico. "There wasn't any other medic around." He was relieved from duty at 4pm on June 7, but still assisted three men who'd gone underwater during a landing attempt before seeking help for himself, journalist and historian Garrett M. Graff writes at Politico.

story continues below

If the total casualty count is accurate, "Woodson personally helped treat somewhere around five to seven percent of all US casualties on the bloodiest beach of D-Day," Graff writes. Yet "his record of valor that day became a casualty of entrenched racism, wartime bureaucracy and Pentagon record-keeping." Capt. Kevin Braafladt, the command historian of the First Army, found records of commanding officers rejecting award nominations from Woodson's brigade. His family, Braafladt, and Van Hollen continue to call for Woodson to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Woodson, who earned the rank of staff sergeant during the Korean War, was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Medic Badge last year, Stripes reports.

(More D-Day stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.