Official Army portrait for Waverly B. Woodson Jr. (U.S. Army photo).

Corporal Waverly Woodson was 21 on June 6, 1944, when he landed on Omaha Beach as a combat medic with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion — an often-overlooked unit that was the only all-Black U.S. military element to storm the beach on D-Day.

“The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s hit us,” Woodson Woodson talked to the Associated Press in 1994, describing German 88mm guns. “They were murder. 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.”

On the beach, “Woodson set broken limbs, removed bullets, amputated one soldier’s right foot, mended gaping wounds, transfused blood, and dispensed plasma,” according to an Army release on Woodson’s D-Day actions. “All the while, his physical condition worsened.”

On Monday, a U.S. senator announced that Woodson will be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest valor award, as Woodson’s supporters continue a campaign to see him awarded the Medal of Honor.

Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said in a release that Woodson “treated countless fellow soldiers for over 30 hours amid intense combat and saved an estimated 200 lives, even though he was seriously injured himself when his boat hit a German mine in the ocean as it approached the beach.”

“Waverly would have felt honored to be recognized for what he knew was his duty,” his widow Joann Woodson said in a statement. “But we all know it was far more than duty; it was his desire to always help people in need.”

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Though wounded at D-Day, Woodson survived, passing away in 2005. Records from the period indicated Woodson’s commander intended to recommend him for the Medal of Honor, but nothing came of it initially.  He was awarded the Bronze Star, but not the Combat Medic Badge, which was finally added to his record in August 2023.

Van Hollen announced on Monday that Woodson would receive the Distinguished Service Cross after years of work by his family and the senator’s office to recognize Woodson’s bravery on D-Day.

“Waverly Woodson earned a place among the most noble of American war heroes for his courageous display of valor on D-Day, but he has never received the full recognition that his actions clearly merited – largely due to the color of his skin,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve fought for years to secure the acknowledgement he deserved. The awarding of the Distinguished Service Cross – the highest award the Army can bestow on its own authority – recognizes his bravery and selfless service and marks a major step forward in our efforts to right this historic wrong. While we have more work to do to fully mark Mr. Woodson’s service, this is a momentous announcement, and I’m pleased to have worked alongside the Woodson family and others bring us to important occasion.”

Soldiers with First Army will lay a World War II-era Distinguished Service Cross at the spot Omaha Beach where Woodson set up his aid station on the anniversary of D-Day this week. The medal will be presented to Woodson’s family this summer.

“We want to be able to tell Mrs. Woodson that the medal she is receiving on behalf of her beloved husband has actually been to Normandy, has actually been to the very place he performed his truly remarkable actions,” Maj. Gen. William A. Ryan III, commanding general of First Army, said in a statement.

Even though records from World War II indicate that Woodson’s commander planned to recommend him for the Medal of Honor, the Army has determined that there is not enough documentation to retroactively award Woodson the U.S. military’s highest decoration for valor.

Woodson’s family and Van Hollen have worked for years to argue that Woodson should receive the Medal of Honor and they continue to advocate on his behalf. Woodson’s heroism is already renowned in the Army medical community.  The Rock Island Arsenal Health Clinic in Illinois was renamed for him in April 2022.

“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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