Saturday, June 8, 2019

Waverly Woodson: D-Day Hero

My maternal grandfather was a WW2 Veteran. Unfortunately by the time I was old enough to be interested in such things I didn't see him that often. He was gone way too soon. It's true that you should cherish every moment you have with loved ones. I can still get stories about him and some of his experiences from other relatives but it's not really the same as getting it direct from the source.
I don't know if my grandfather was ever in combat. I do remember the seemingly HUGE rifle that he brought home. Memory is important. History is important.  And it's because of the importance of memory that Joann Woodson, the 90 year-old widow of WW2 D-Day hero Waverly Woodson, is fighting to ensure that her late husband receives all the praise and commendations that he should have received during his life, including the Medal of Honor.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) – For years, a widow has been fighting for recognition of her late husband's heroism during D-Day. Waverly Woodson Jr. was one of an estimated one million African Americans who served in World War II, including 2,000 who were at Normandy. All served in segregated units and their contributions are often overlooked. Joann Woodson, 90, wants everyone to know the sacrifice her husband made when he stormed Omaha Beach 75 years ago as a medic.

"He said that the men were just dropping, just dropping so fast. Some of them were so wounded, there was nothing that you could do but just give them a few little last rites," Woodson said.

While portrayals of D-Day often depict an all-white host of invaders, it also included many African Americans, including a corporal from Philadelphia. 

Waverly Woodson Jr. was among roughly 2,000 African American troops believed to have hit the shores of Normandy in various capacities on June 4, 1944. 

Serving in a United States military still-segregated by race, they encountered discrimination both in the service and when they came home. The Congressional Black Caucus says Woodson was a 21-year-old medic from Philadelphia who treated at least 200 injured men on D-Day, despite being injured himself. He was a part of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only African American combat unit that played a role in storming the beaches of Normandy. The combat unit’s job was to set up explosive-rigged balloons to deter German planes.

Woodson was wounded in the back and groin while on the landing craft but went on to spend 30 hours on the beach tending to other wounded men before eventually collapsing, according to a letter from then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. 

Van Hollen, now a U.S. senator, is heading an effort to have Woodson posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day. But a lack of documentation, in part because of a 1973 fire that destroyed millions of military personnel files, has stymied the effort. Although Woodson did not live to see this week’s 75th anniversary, he died in 2005, he told The Associated Press in 1994 about how his landing craft hit a mine on the way to Omaha Beach.

“The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s hit us,” he said of the German 88mm guns. “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.”

According to author Linda Hervieux’s “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes,” Woodson was originally recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, but U.S. Lt. General John C.H. Lee, who died in 1958, had the recommendation upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Still, he would never receive it.

Woodson passed away in 2005 at the age of 83. His marble tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery lists his final Army rank — staff sergeant — along with his highest accolades, the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

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