Army's XVIII Airborne Corps Highlights Black D-Day Hero Denied Medal of Honor

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Waverly Woodson’s first Army portrait. (Photo courtesy of Joann Woodson via www.lindahervieux.com)
Waverly Woodson’s first Army portrait. (Photo courtesy of Joann Woodson via www.lindahervieux.com)

The Army element known as "America's Contingency Corps" marked the 76th anniversary of D-Day by telling the story of a black veteran of that battle who died without ever receiving the full hero's recognition he deserved.

The Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based XVIII Army Corps published a series of tweets Saturday night telling the story of Cpl. Waverly Woodson, who sustained "grievous" wounds at Omaha Beach in Normandy, but still managed to save the lives of 80 other soldiers.

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The XVIII Corps is the same unit from which some 1,600 soldiers were ordered to the Washington, D.C. region this week to stand on alert for protest control. They ultimately returned home without entering the district.

Woodson was one of roughly 2,000 black American soldiers who landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944. A member of the all-black 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, he worked for 30 hours to triage the wounded after getting hit by a German shell himself, according to the tweet thread. In all, he treated more than 200 soldiers.

"He was transferred to a hospital ship but refused to remain there, returning to the fight to treat more Allied Soldiers. He was hailed as a hero in his hometown of [Philadelphia]," the thread stated. "Yet when he returned to the US, he had to fight Jim Crow, facing discrimination at every turn."

Woodson was nominated by his commander for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest combat award. Instead, he was awarded the Bronze Star and a Purple heart.

The tweets noted that Woodson had departed Lincoln University, where he was a pre-med student, to serve his nation after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Despite passing the Army's officer candidate school exam, his race meant he could only serve as an enlisted soldier.

"Waverly Woodson never truly received the recognition he deserved for his selfless heroism on this day 76 years ago," the thread concluded. "Today, let's acknowledge him and the [largely overlooked] African American troops who landed on Normandy on D Day."

Though Woodson died in 2005 at the age of 83, his widow, Joann, is still fighting to get him the Medal of Honor he was denied. In July 2019, a group of 52 lawmakers largely from the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy asking him to initiate a formal review into upgrading Woodson's Bronze Star.

"Based on extensive research on his service record, it is clear that Cpl. Woodson did not receive the Medal of Honor during WWII because of the color of his skin," the lawmakers wrote. "We believe that the Army has sufficient evidence of the required recommendation to, at a minimum, permit a formal review by an award decision authority. Accordingly, we respectfully ask the Army to rectify this historic injustice and appropriately recognize this valorous Veteran with a posthumous recommendation for the Medal of Honor."

It's not clear if the XVIII Airborne's public acknowledgement of Woodson and his heroism signals a larger interest on the part of the Army in revisiting his award.

Until the 1990s, no Medals of Honor had been awarded to black World War II veterans. Following a review commissioned by the Army in 1993, seven black veterans of the war received the nation's highest combat honor, all but one posthumously.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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