Waverly Woodson Jr., Posthumously, Distinguished Service Cross

Waverly Woodson Jr. To Be Posthumously Awarded Distinguished Service Cross

Woodson's story will also be told as part of a National Geographic docuseries, 'Erased: WW2’s Heroes of Color.'

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 in recognition of his dedication and bravery in treating troops during D-Day.

As the Associated Press reports, the Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to U.S. Army soldiers who display extraordinary heroism in combat against an enemy force but do not quite reach the level that a Medal of Honor demands

Woodson’s honor comes just ahead of the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, which occurred on June 6, 1944. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has been working with Woodson’s family for years to make sure the veteran received recognition.

“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 keep enemy planes from attacking their location. 

Woodson, who died in 2005, spoke to the AP in 1994 about the attack.

“The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s (German 88mm guns) hit us,” Woodson recalled. “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 bypassed for their due in an era of widespread racism and prejudice in the military and in America in general.

The study determined that Woodson’s decoration case could not be found because of a fire at a facility in 1973 that destroyed his personnel records. The study eventually resulted in seven Black US Army troops being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Woodson’s story will also be told as part of a National Geographic docu-series, Erased: WW2’s Heroes of Color, which will highlight accounts of heroism and bravery that were overlooked during a period of institutional racism in the armed forces. 

Woodson’s widow, 95-year-old Joann Woodson, hinted in the announcement 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.”

Per the release, if Woodson is eventually awarded the Medal of Honor, his widow 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.”