Heroic Black Medic Posthumously Awarded Distinguished Service Cross

    Waverly Woodson Jr., a Black medic who served in the only all-Black regiment to take part in the Invasion of Normandy during World War II, is being posthumously honored with the Distinguished Service Cross, according to ABC News. This award, given in recognition of his extraordinary heroism and dedication in treating troops during D-Day, marks a significant acknowledgment of his bravery and service.

    The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to U.S. Army soldiers who demonstrate extraordinary heroism in combat against an enemy force but whose actions do not quite meet the criteria for the Medal of Honor. Woodson’s recognition comes just ahead of the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

    Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has been working closely with Woodson’s family for years to ensure that the veteran received the recognition he deserved. “This has been a long time coming,” Van Hollen told the Associated Press. “Woodson’s bravery on D-Day was heroic. We have numerous accounts of what he did to save his fellow soldiers even as he was wounded. And so we’ve been pursuing this recognition for a long time along with the family.”

    In 1944, the armed forces were still segregated. Approximately 2,000 Black troops are believed to have participated in storming Normandy. Woodson and his unit, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only Black combat unit in action that day, set up balloons to protect their location from enemy planes.

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    Woodson, who passed away in 2005, recalled the attack during a 1994 interview with the AP. “The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s (German 88mm guns) hit us,” Woodson said. “They were murdered. Of our 26 Navy personnel, there was only one left. They raked the whole top of the ship and killed all the crew. Then they started with the mortar shells.”

    Woodson was nearly awarded the Medal of Honor in 1997 after the Army commissioned a study to determine if Black troops had been overlooked for their contributions due to widespread racism and prejudice. Unfortunately, his decoration case could not be found because a fire in 1973 destroyed his personnel records. However, the study resulted in seven Black U.S. Army troops receiving the Medal of Honor.

    Woodson’s story will be featured in the upcoming National Geographic docu-series, “Erased: WW2’s Heroes of Color,” which highlights overlooked accounts of heroism and bravery from people of color during a period of institutional racism in the armed forces.

    Woodson’s widow, 95-year-old Joann Woodson, suggested in a statement from Sen. Van Hollen’s office that she still believes her late husband deserves the Medal of Honor. “Waverly would have felt honored to be recognized for what he knew was his duty. But we all know it was far more than duty; it was his desire to always help people in need.”

    If Woodson is eventually awarded the Medal of Honor, Joann Woodson plans to donate it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

    “I am so thankful he is being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross as acknowledgment from his peers, the U.S. Army,” Woodson’s son, Steve, said in a statement. “Hopefully this will pave the way for further recognition of his heroism on D-Day for saving lives in the pursuit of freedom for the oppressed; that recognition being the Medal of Honor.”

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