Sgt. Waverly Woodson Jr., also known as “Woody,” was a 21-year-old medic in an all-Black brigade during World War II when he and other Black soldiers were the first to step on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
The young soldier had been injured by shrapnel that tore through his thigh and buttocks, but that didn’t deter the courageous man from saving lives that day. Waverly saved 200 lives while suffering from his own injuries but has yet to receive a Medal of Honor from the U.S. military for his selfless act.
Seventy-five years later, his widow is fighting for the honor her late husband deserves. Although D-Day has been historically white-washed, there were an estimated one million Black soldiers who served in World War II, with some 2,000 Black soldiers serving at Normandy. The units were segregated, and Black soldiers have yet to be recognized for their contributions during the battle.
Under heavy machine-gun fire, Waverly, courageously, took care of wounded soldiers for over 30 hours. He even saved four men from drowning after their support rope gave way to the ocean’s mighty waves. Some 200 men owe their lives to Waverly Woodson Jr.’s dedicated service. He finally collapsed from his injuries and was dispatched to a hospital for treatment. Days later, he would be asked to return to fight again.
Waverly was deemed a D-Day hero in Black newspapers around the country. According to History.com, the U.S. Army dubbed him a “modest Negro American soldier” who “was cited by his commanding officer for extraordinary bravery,” in an August 1944 statement. However, he was never awarded a Medal of Honor.
His widow, Joann Woodson, now 90, feels it’s essential that everyone knows the sacrifices her husband made when he bravely stepped foot on Omaha Beach 75 years ago.
“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.
Black soldiers were often put in dangerous situations first, including the front lines while white soldiers either watched from a place of safety or sent in after Black soldiers had taken the brunt of attacks. D-Day was no different.
The contributions of Black soldiers and the military’s failure to recognize them set the tone for a study launched by the Army in 1993. The study concluded that racial bias was the sole reason Black soldiers didn’t earn a Medal of Honor. Former President Bill Clinton then awarded seven Black soldiers the prestigious honor in 1997, but Waverly Woodson Jr. was not on the list.
“It’s pretty clear that had he been a white soldier, he would’ve received the Medal of Honor and the only thing that has stood in the way is the color of his skin,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
According to the U.S.Army, Waverly didn’t have the proper documentation to be considered for the high honor after a fire in the Woodson’s home destroyed the necessary paperwork to prove his service.
Waverly Woodson, Jr. died in 2005 with just a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service. His widow, Joann, continues to fight for the Medal of Honor of her late husband’s bravery merited.