Philadelphia, PA

World War II Hero Waverly Woodson Jr. (1922 - 2005)

Matt Reicher

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Corporal Waverly Woodson Jr.ABCNews

Almost one million black soldiers served the United States bravely during World War II. They received only seven of 473 Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers for their efforts. One of the many deserving names missing from that group was Cpl Waverly “Woody” Bernard Woodson Jr. He, as a medic during the D-Day battle at Omaha Beach, disregarded his own injuries to help save the lives of other wounded soldiers.

Cpl Woodson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Waverly Sr. and Edna Louise Baxter Woodson on August 3, 1922. After graduating from Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, he attended Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania, to study pre-med. Woodson left school during his sophomore year in 1942 to enlist in the U.S. Army.

On June 6, 1944, he served as a medic with the segregated 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Battalion as it approached the beach to engage the German forces at the bloodiest of the five sites the Allies attacked on D-Day. The amphibious vehicle carrying Woodson and other soldiers took a direct hit from a land mine shortly before 10:00 in the morning. The shrapnel struck his buttocks and inner thigh, causing significant injuries.

As chaos engulfed him on all sides, Cpl Woodson set up a medical station and cared for the wounded. During the next thirty hours, he helped save the lives of over black and white soldiers, removing bullets, dispensing plasma, cleaning wounds, and resetting broken bones. Woodson was relieved of his duty at 4:00 PM the next day. He helped rescue and resuscitate four drowning soldiers before seeking treatment for his injuries.

Three days later, after receiving treatment, Cpl Woodson requested to return to battle to continue treating other wounded soldiers.

The 320th Battalion succeeded in its mission. The group was able to get their balloons to shore and in flight. Those balloons are credited with destroying three German planes. The exploits of the 320th earned them a commendation from General Eisenhower and awards for five of its soldiers.

Cpl Woodson was among the awarded soldiers, receiving a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal.

In an August 28, 1944, news release, the Army hailed Cpl Woodson’s heroics during the D-Day invasion. The Pittsburgh Courier and other black newspapers called him “America’s №1 Invasion Hero.” They felt he deserved the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for his actions at Normandy.

After the war, Cpl Woodson resumed his education. He graduated from Liberty University with a degree in biology in 1950. Later, he graduated with honors from the Franklin School of Science and Arts as a medical technologist and X-ray technologist. Cpl Woodson married Joann Katharyne Snowden in 1952. The couple had three children.

Cpl Woodson worked for twenty-eight years at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Institutes of Health. He retired in 1980.

The Army contracted with Raleigh, North Carolina’s Shaw University in 1993 to determine whether racial discrimination had played a part in how Medal of Honor recipients were selected. The group concluded that race was indeed a factor and recommended ten soldiers for the award. On January 13, 1997, President Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to seven African Americans — six posthumously. Cpl Woodson was not among the recipients.

Cpl Waverly Woodson Jr. passed away on August 12, 2005. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

A letter written shortly after the D-Day battle from the assistant director in the Office of War Information Philleo Nash to a White House Aide was recently discovered. It noted that Cpl Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross but that the office of U.S. Gen. John C. H. Lee in Britain subsequently upgraded the recommendation to the Medal of Honor.

While the rediscovered information compelled authorities, they needed supporting primary source material to go forward. Unfortunately, Cpl Woodson’s records were destroyed during a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Because the battle was so many years ago, no one that fought alongside Cpl Woodson is still alive to back up what happened.

In a push for Cpl Woodson’s recognition, lawmakers noted that the fire should not be a barrier. Since 2015, Senator Chris Van Hollen has pushed the Army to consider the corporal for the Medal of Honor, including a letter he led with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In 2020, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sen. Van Hollen, introduced legislation to award him a Medal of Honor posthumously for his heroism.

Also, Woodson’s wife Joann, as president of the Clarksburg Historical Society, continued to help spearhead efforts to get her husband the proper credit for his efforts on the battlefield.

“It’s never too late to correct something or to recognize something that should have been done.” ~Joann Woodson

Cpl Waverly Bernard Woodson Jr. was a highly decorated US Army medic during WWII whose heroics on the battlefield helped save many lives. He deserves to be properly rewarded for his unquestionable heroism beyond the call of duty by receiving the Medal of Honor.

Sources

  • Converse, Elliott V., Daniel K. Gibran, and John A. Cash. The Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II: The Study Commissioned by the United States Army to Investigate Racial Bias in the Awarding of the Nation’s Highest Military Decoration. Jefferson: McFarland, 2015.
  • Fikes, Robert. “Waverly Bernard Woodson Jr. (1922–2005).” BlackPast is Dedicated to Providing a Global Audience with Reliable and Accurate Information on the History of African America and of People of African Ancestry Around the World. We Aim to Promote Greater Understanding Through This Knowledge to Generate Constructive Change in Our Society. Last modified February 6, 2020. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/woodson-waverly-bernard-jr-1922-2005/.
  • Rempfer, Kyle. “Lawmakers Want This African-American Soldier to Posthumously Receive the Medal of Honor for Actions on D-Day.” Army Times. Last modified July 3, 2019. https://www.armytimes.com/2019/07/03/senators-want-this-african-american-soldier-to-posthumously-receive-the-medal-of-honor-for-actions-on-d-day/.
  • “Research Starters: US Military by the Numbers.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-us-military-numbers.
  • Van Hollen, Sen. Chris. “A Bill to Authorize the President to Award the Medal of Honor to Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., for acts of valor during World War II.” U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/ARM19G05.pdf.
  • “Van Hollen, Trone Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Posthumously Award Maryland WWII Veteran Cpl. Woodson with Medal of Honor.” U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Last modified September 8, 2020. https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/news/press-releases/van-hollen-trone-introduce-bipartisan-bicameral-legislation-to-posthumously-award-maryland-wwii-veteran-cpl-woodson-with-medal-of-honor.
  • “Waverly B. Woodson, Jr. — LindaHervieux.com.” LindaHervieux.com. Last modified September 11, 2015. https://www.lindahervieux.com/the-320th-blog/2015/9/3/waverly-b-woodson-jr.
  • “Waverly Bernard “Woody” Woodson Jr.” Find A Grave — Millions of Cemetery Records. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/49338472/waverly-bernard-woodson.
  • “Waverly Woodson | WWII | Clarksburg, MD.” Clarksburghistory. https://www.clarksburgmdhistory.org/waverly-woodson.
  • “WWII Medal of Honor Recipients.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/topics/wwii-medal-honor-recipients.

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