Black doctor injured on D-Day to be honored posthumously – NBC Chicago

Waverly Woodson Jr., a medic who was part of the only black combat unit to take part in the D-Day invasion of France during World War II, is posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of heroism and the determination he showed in dealing with troops under heavy enemy fire.

The Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest honor that can be awarded to a member of the military and is awarded for extraordinary heroism.

The announcement was made Monday by Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who has worked for years with Woodson’s family to gain greater recognition for his exploits on that fateful day.

“It took a while,” Van Hollen said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Woodson’s courage on D-Day was heroic. We have many stories of what he did to save his comrades even while he was wounded. So we have been looking for this recognition with the family for a long time. »

The announcement comes just days before the 80th anniversary of June 6, the anniversary of the assault that led to the liberation of France and the rest of Western Europe from Nazi Germany.

Members of the First Army, which included Woodson’s unit during World War II, took with them to France a Distinguished Service Cross dating from World War II. They will hold a ceremony on the section of the beach at Colleville-sur-Mer, beneath what was a German fighting position known as WN61, where Woodson tended to the troops, and lay the medal in the sand there. Later this summer, he will be handed over to his family in a ceremony.

Woodson was only 21 years old when his unit, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, participated in the Allied operation. His battalion, the only African-American combat unit present that day, was responsible for deploying balloons to deter enemy aircraft.

At a time when the U.S. military was still divided along racial lines, approximately 2,000 African-American soldiers were estimated to have taken part in the D-Day invasion.

Woodson died in 2005. He told the AP in 1994 how his landing craft came under intense fire from the Germans as it approached the beach.

“The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88 guns hit us,” he said of the German 88 mm guns. “It was murder. Of our 26 Navy members, only one remained. They raked the entire roof of the ship and killed the entire crew. Then they started with the mortar rounds,” Woodson said.

Capt. Kevin Braafladt, First Army historian, said Woodson’s landing craft – LCT 856 – was hit by two shells, injuring Woodson. The ship lost power and was pushed ashore by the tide. Woodson probably had to jump into the water to get ashore.

For the next 30 hours, he treated 200 wounded men under intense small arms and artillery fire before collapsing from his wounds and blood loss, according to accounts of his service. At the time, he received the Bronze Star.

Although 1.2 million black Americans served in the military during World War II, none were among the original recipients of the Medal of Honor awarded during the conflict. The Army commissioned a study in the early 1990s to determine whether black troops had been unfairly neglected during an era of widespread racism and segregation within the military. Ultimately, seven black World War II soldiers received the Medal of Honor in 1997.

At the time, Woodson was being considered for the award and the authors interviewed him. But, they wrote, his decoration file could not be found and his personnel files were destroyed in a 1973 fire at a military records center. Woodson’s supporters believe not only is he worthy of the Medal of Honor, but that there was a recommendation at the time to award it to him, but that recommendation was lost.

Braafladt said that after the war, the U.S. military made a deliberate effort to reduce its enormous amounts of paperwork. The fire at a military archives center in Missouri also destroyed countless documents. But Braafladt, who has worked on the Woodson case for about four years, said there was no doubt in his mind that Woodson absolutely deserved the Medal of Honor and that he was recommended for it at the time. It’s about finding the documentation, he said.

“For me and for the First Army, the hunt continues,” he said.

A Kentucky veteran killed during World War II was buried Friday after his remains were identified through DNA testing.

Van Hollen’s office became involved in Woodson’s case years ago when Woodson’s wife sought Van Hollen’s assistance in helping Woodson get the recognition she felt she deserved.

“Waverly would have felt honored to be recognized for what he knew was his duty. But we all know that it was more than just a duty; it was his desire to always help people in need,” Joann Woodson said in the announcement from the senator’s office.

Woodson’s story is also being told as part of a four-part National Geographic documentary series called “Erased: WW2’s Heroes of Color.” The documentary series highlights the stories of people whose contributions have been deliberately overlooked in an era of entrenched racism.

Van Hollen said he and Woodson’s family are still working to have Woodson awarded the Medal of Honor, but called being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross an “extremely significant” moment.

“This moment is extremely important to overcome what has been a historic injustice and right this wrong,” Van Hollen said.

NBC Chicago

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