Profiles Of Valor: Forgotten Hero?

CPL Waverly “Woody” Woodson Jr. Receives Long-Overdue Distinguished Service Cross

  • Friday, June 14, 2024
  • Mark Caldwell

In my recent profile on the 80th anniversary of D-Day, “The Last D-Day Vets Standing,” and a companion piece, “The D-Day Medals of Honor,” I noted: “There is no comprehensive account of all the heroic acts that day — the actions of those who placed the lives of their brothers above their own. Most of those actions have been lost in the history of the moment, never recorded. However, there were 10 Medals of Honor awarded to recipients whose heroic actions were representative of those by hundreds of others during that five-day assault.”

Fortunately, the D-Day anniversary revived lost accounts of some of those heroic actions that had long since fallen silent. Unfortunately, some Leftmedia scribes did what they do best, and attempted to sensationalize those heroic acts by wrapping some lost accounts in “racism.”

One such account is that of CPL Waverly “Woody” Woodson Jr. The actions of this black combat veteran alone were sensational, but apparently not sensational enough because the some publications insisted, “His record of valor that day became a casualty of entrenched racism.” To a degree, that may have been a factor, but to frame his heroics that way serves only as a divisive distraction from the compelling story of Woodson’s actions.

Woody Woodson was a Philadelphia native. After high school, he was a pre-med student at Lincoln University, but with the onset of World War II in his sophomore year, he set aside his academic pursuits, as did many in his generation. He joined the Army, and with high aptitude scores, he and one other black soldier were assigned to the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Officer Candidate School. Because of segregated military units at the time, it was unlikely he would be placed in an artillery unit, so at his request, he was retrained as a combat medic and then assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, First Army.

And by God’s providence, that shift in his training would lead to many lives being saved.

When plans were set for Operation Overlord in 1944, Woody held the rank of Corporal. He was deployed to England in advance of the D-Day invasion. On D-Day, there were about 1,900 black soldiers who landed at Normandy, mostly trained as drivers and cargo/shipping handlers, but Woodson’s 320th was the only battalion made up of black soldiers that deployed for the landings.

On June 6, 1944, Woody launched in the third wave toward Omaha Beach on LCT (landing craft tank) 856. About 200 meters from shore, his LCT was hit by a mine, which disabled the engine. Stilled in the surf, it was hit again, this time with a shell from a German 88mm anti-tank artillery gun perched high above the beach, destroying the craft.

Woody suffered shrapnel injuries but was able to swim to shore. As he recalls, “There was a lot of debris, and men were drowning all around me. I swam to the shore and crawled on the beach to a cliff out of the range of the machine guns and snipers. I was far from where I was supposed to be, but there wasn’t any other medic around here on Omaha Beach. … I had pulled a tent roll out of the water and so I set up a first-aid station. It was the only one on the beach.”

After his own wounds were treated, he and several other medics staged under a rocky embankment in order to provide some protection from the German guns above. From 1000 on D-Day to 1600 on D-Day+1, the medics assisted the wounded at great risk to their own lives.

An Army historical commission established in the 1990s to review the actions of black soldiers in World War II determined: “For 30 continuous hours while under enemy fire, Woodson cared for more than 200 casualties. Even after being relieved at 1600 on 7 June, Woodson gave artificial respiration to three men who had gone underwater during a [landing craft’s] landing attempt. Only then did Woodson seek further treatment.” His actions that day likely saved the lives of more than a dozen wounded soldiers.

After Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was breached, Woodson’s commanding officer recommended him for a Distinguished Service Cross, but some of LTG John Lee’s aides believed his actions were deserving of a Medal of Honor. In fact, Philleo Nash, an assistant in the War Department at the time, proposed that President Franklin Roosevelt personally make the award to Woodson.

His actions were certainly deserving of one award or the other, but amid the fog wartime urgencies, neither of those medals was awarded, though he and many others did received Purple Hearts. Woodson’s battalion returned to the U.S. shortly after the Battle of Normandy and then deployed to Hawaii in preparation for mass casualties from Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan to end the Pacific War, which fortunately was not initiated after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan’s surrender. It is estimated that if not for the use of those two nuclear weapons, there would have been 260,000 American dead and 600,000 wounded. The casualty estimates for Japanese military and civilians ranged between two and five million.

In 1946, Woodson was transferred to the Army Reserve and graduated from Lincoln University in 1950 with a degree in biology. During the Korean War, then SSG Woodson was called back to active duty, serving at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center performing autopsies. He would spend the rest of his career working in clinical positions with civilian government agencies.

In 1994, Woody was invited to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day to receive France’s highest honor, the French Legion of Honor. He died in August 2005.

Though his service record, like that of countless others, was a casualty of wartime bureaucracy and inaccurate records more than “entrenched racism,” the memory of his heroic actions has been kept alive by his family. And indeed it is an account of extraordinary heroics.

In 2022, the Rock Island Arsenal honored his service when opening the Woodson Health Clinic. On October 11, 2023, at Arlington National Cemetery, where he is buried, a graveside ceremony was held to present his WWII Bronze Star and Combat Medic Badge to his widow and son.

Just before the D-Day anniversary ceremonies this year, the Department of Defense announced it was posthumously awarding Woodson his long-overdue Distinguished Service Cross, our nation’s second-highest military award for valor.

As for the Medal of Honor, CPT Kevin Braafladt, First Army’s command historian, remains convinced that Woodson’s Medal of Honor packet existed at one time, noting: “The research was able to connect enough dots that the awards committee could see that beyond a reasonable doubt there was a DSC recommendation put up. The hunt’s still ongoing.”

There are 94 black Medal of Honor ecipients, proportionally far less than the percentage of black Americans serving, but until the 1960s black soldiers were mostly excluded from combat roles.

The first Medal of Honor to a black recipient was awarded for his valorous actions during the War Between the States.

I profiled that extraordinary recipient, SGT William Carney, who was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. He joined the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the second but most noted infantry regiment composed of black Americans, as authorized by Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

CPL Waverly “Woody” Woodson Jr.: Your example of valor — a humble American Patriot defending Liberty for all above and beyond the call of duty, and in disregard for the peril to your own life — is eternal. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

(Read more Profiles of Valor here (https://patriotpost.us/tags/Profiles%20of%20Valor))

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

Join us in daily prayer for our Patriots in uniform — Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen — standing in harm’s way in defense of American Liberty, and for Veterans, First Responders, and their families.

Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support our hometown National Medal of Honor Sustaining Fund. Make a check payable to NMoH Sustaining Fund and mail to: Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 407, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0407. Visit the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center at Aquarium Plaza. (https://www.MOHHC.org)


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