Senators Push For Medal Of Honor For Late Black Medic Who Saved Lives At Normandy

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Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson Jr. was an Army medic in an African American battalion who helped save scores of lives at Normandy on D-Day. On Tuesday, U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation to posthumously award him a Medal of Honor.

Woodson family via AP


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Woodson family via AP

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Barrage balloons and ships at Omaha Beach during the Allied assault in Normandy, France.

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Sen. Van Hollen, who has pushed for Woodson’s greater recognition since 2015, said in a news conference Tuesday that the Medal of Honor is about correcting a historical injustice.

«One million Black Americans served during World War II — that’s one in every 16 American service members,» he said. «But of the hundreds of Medals of Honor awarded at that time, not a single one went to a Black service member.»

When Woodson spoke about D-Day, he often said it didn’t matter what color your skin was on Omaha Beach, according to Hervieux’s research.

«There is no such thing as a color barrier, if I’m sitting here with material that you need as a white person. A bullet will kill you, it’ll blow your head off,» Woodson said in a 1994 interview with ABC News.

But there wasn’t equality for Black soldiers in the segregated Army, or when they returned to Jim Crow America. Historians even maintained there were no Blacks among U.S. forces on D-Day, according to Hervieux.

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Joann Woodson kneels at the gravesite of her husband, Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr., at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

Linda Hervieux via AP


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Linda Hervieux via AP

Joann Woodson kneels at the gravesite of her husband, Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr., at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

Linda Hervieux via AP

«The memory of Black soldiers at D-Day has been scrubbed in many of our textbooks and on movie screens,» she says.

Hervieux says she learned about the 320th battalion when the French government honored several members while marking the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009.

Fifteen years earlier, France awarded medals to Woodson and other battalion members, and invited the veterans and their families to Normandy.

Woodson’s widow, Joan Woodson, says she has wonderful memories from the trip.

«They were so gracious to us, I will always remember that,» she tells NPR over the phone from her home in Clarksburg, Md. «We were flown over on Air France and they treated us like royalty when we got there. It was an amazing moment.»

Woodson, 91, has helped organize a petition and has been a major force behind the move to belatedly recognize her husband’s valor.

«I feel that he deserves to have the recognition that he was denied or they didn’t follow through with,» she says. «Because everything he did, he definitely qualified to receive that honor.»

  • Waverly Woodson Jr.
  • military history
  • Normandy
  • D-Day
  • Medal of Honor
  • France
  • World War II

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