Second World War: an African-American decorated posthumously Second World War: an African-American decorated posthumously

Second World War: an African-American decorated posthumously

Second World War: an African-American decorated posthumously
A fully deserved but long denied medal to an African-American combat medic wounded on Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings has been tenderly laid on the hallowed sands where he saved lives and shed blood.

Soldiers of the First U.S. Army held a ceremony in honor of Waverly Woodson Jr. Friday on the beach where he landed and was wounded, and where hundreds of U.S. troops were killed by heavy fire during the landing of June 6, 1944 in Normandy, in the north of France.

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

The medal was awarded to Woodson posthumously this month, just before the 80th anniversary of D-Day, after years of lobbying for greater recognition of his exploits on that fateful day.

General William Ryan, a major in the First U.S. Army, gently placed the World War II-era medal on the sand near where Woodson would have landed on the now pacified beach that on D-Day was swept aside by German machine guns and artillery fire before American forces seized it and began advancing inland.

The soldiers all saluted, still and silent under a blue sky, when Sergeant Major Christopher Prosser, commander of the First U.S. Army, gave the order to present arms.

Capt. Kevin Braafladt, First U.S. Army historian, told the soldiers the next step would be presenting the medal to Woodson's 95-year-old widow, Joann. The medal will be presented to his family during a ceremony later this summer.

“We want to be able to say that this medal came from Omaha Beach and was at the site where Woodson acted,” Mr. Braafladt said.

The soldiers gently passed the medal from hand to hand, feeling its weight and inspecting it.

The ceremony moved First U.S. Army Master Sergeant Aaron Williams, who is black, to tears.

"Understanding my position as an African-American and getting to know Corporal Woodson and all that he experienced here in Omaha and Normandy means a lot to me, and being here, in the exact location, It's simply historic. It's very, very moving.

Woodson was just 21 when his First Army unit, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, took part in the Allied operation that helped hasten the fall of Adolf Hitler 11 months later.

Woodson's battalion, the only African-American combat unit in Omaha that day, was responsible for installing high-flying inflatable balloons to prevent enemy planes from flying over the beach and attacking allied forces.

At a time when the U.S. military still practiced racial segregation, approximately 2,000 African-American soldiers are believed to have taken part in the D-Day invasion.

Woodson died in 2005, at the age of 83, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Her son, Stephen, 66, fought back tears Friday as The Associated Press described the ceremony to him by phone.

“I have chills,” he said. “My father is receiving overdue attention.

“Words fail me to describe the importance of this ceremony for my family.

Woodson himself told the AP in 1994 how his landing craft came under heavy fire from German gunners as it approached the beach.

“The tide pushed us forward, and that's when the 88mm guns hit us,” he said of the German 88mm guns. "It was real carnage. Of the 26 navy personnel, only one was left. They raked the entire top of the ship and killed the entire crew. Then they started firing shells from mortar,” he adds.

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

Although 1.2 million Black Americans served in the military during World War II, none of them were among the original recipients of the Medal of Honor awarded during the conflict.

In the early 1990s, the Army commissioned a study to determine whether black troops had been unfairly neglected at a time when racism and segregation were widespread in the military. Ultimately, seven black World War II soldiers received the Medal of Honor in 1997.


  1. It is a powerful reminder of his heroism.

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