Waverly B. Woodson Jr: D-Day’s Last Unsung Hero

76th Anniversary of D-Day Normandy Landings

Today is the 76th Anniversary of D-Day. I first visited the Normandy D-Day landing sites and memorials with my study abroad program in 2012. The visit itself was eye-opening and profound, especially because at that time I around the same age as many of those who lost their lives. It’s something that I appreciate more and more as the years go by.

There’s a quote at the American cemetery that has always stood out to me, and I find myself thinking about it especially on Memorial Day and D-Day:

“These endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace.”

It’s hard not to get emotional looking at photos of the Veterans who returned to Normandy last year to commemorate the 75th Anniversary. Estimations from last year showed only 4% of WWII Veterans were still alive, including fewer than 1,000 D-Day Veterans.

The 76th Anniversary of D-Day

Today marks the 76th Anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Because of the pandemic, for the first time in 75 years, there will only be one veteran on the beaches of Normandy, Charles Shay who lives in France. Shay was a US Army medic and among the first to land at Omaha Beach.

Omaha Beach
American Cemetery in Normandy to Commemorate the 76th Anniversary of D-Day

Another US Army medic who landed in Normandy that day was Waverly B. Woodson Jr., likely D-Day’s last unsung hero. Of the 73,000 Americans who landed in Normandy, 2,000 of those were Black Americans, like Woodson.

Waverly B. Woodson, Jr.

21-year-old Waverly B. Woodson Jr. was among the first Black Americans to set foot on Omaha Beach. He arrived after burning shrapnel hit him from a German shell that destroyed his landing craft, killing the man next to him.

Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., a man who deserves the Medal of Honor
Image courtesy of the Woodson family
The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion
The National Archives

Woodson and three other medics set up a medical aid station on the beach. Over the next 30 hours, through German sniper fire and immense pain from his own injury, Woodson treated at least 200 men and saved four others from drowning. He ultimately collapsed from his injuries and was transferred to a hospital ship. Within days was asked to return to Omaha Beach.

Woodson received a nomination for the Medal of Honor, but never got it because of the color of his skin. In 1997 when Bill Clinton belatedly awarded Medals of Honor to seven black soldiers (only one of which was still alive), Woodson still didn’t receive his.

Waverly B. Woodson Jr. deserves the Medal of Honor
Image courtesy of the Woodson family

The Army needs proper documentation to award the Medal of Honor and a 1973 fire destroyed millions of military records, Woodson’s included. Like the other 156,000 allied troops who landed in Normandy on D-Day, Woodson endured all and gave all for our freedom and deserves proper recognition for his service.

More on Waverly B. Woodson, Jr:

I encourage you to read more about Waverly B. Woodson, Jr. below and to sign the petition to award him the Medal of Honor.

Sign the Petition

He Served With D-Day’s Only African-American Combat Unit. His Widow Is Still Fighting for His Medal of Honor

A Black Medic Saved Hundreds on D-Day. Was He Deprived of a Medal of Honor?

Fighting Germans and Jim Crow: Role of Black Troops on D-Day

Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War

D-Day’s Forgotten African-American Heroes – Linda Hervieux

Forgotten: The Book Trailer

American Cemetery in Normandy
Waverly B. Woodson deserves the Medal of Honor
The American Cemetery in Normandy
The American Cemetery in Normandy
The American Cemetery in Normandy under the shade

A trip to Normandy to visit the D-Day Landing Sites is one of the most incredible experiences you can have in France. I highly recommend visiting if you haven’t already. I’d be honored to help you plan a trip.

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