Lawmakers push to award posthumous Medal of Honor to Black World War II medic

Army medic Cpl. Waverly Woodson Jr. is credited with saving many lives on D-Day when Allied troops landed on Omaha Beach, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers says he was not considered for the Medal of Honor because he was Black.

They’re working with Woodson’s widow to change that.

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen from Maryland and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania with US Reps. David Trone and Anthony Brown — both Democrats from Maryland — announced legislation on Tuesday authorizing President Donald Trump to award Woodson the nation’s highest military honor.

“I want to thank all of you for being so concerned and being at my back to see if we can right this wrong, or to at least have the recognition that my dear beloved husband deserved,” Woodson’s 91-year-old widow Joann Woodson said.

Woodson was a medic with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion — the only all-Black unit that landed on D-Day, according to a news release from Van Hollen’s office. It deployed balloons that were designed to protect troops on the beach from strafing German fighter planes.

On June 6, 1944, Woodson received serious shrapnel wounds to his groin and back before he left his landing craft, but still spent the next 30 hours treating wounded soldiers, according to the release.

He earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his valor, but the lawmakers say that Black troops were not considered at the time for the Medal of Honor.

Van Hollen called that “a historical injustice” and a “historical wrong.”

“Cpl. Waverly Woodson never received the Medal of Honor for his outstanding courage and bravery at the Battle of Normandy where he saved many of his soldiers, and he was denied that Medal of Honor because of the color of his skin,” he said.

Van Hollen said he’s been working to honor Woodson since 2015 but said many of the records of his heroism are gone.

President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to seven Black soldiers in 1997. They were the first Black World War II soldiers to receive the honor. Woodson was on the shortlist to be honored then, according to the release, but was not selected because of the lack of documentation.

Woodson was 83 years old when he died in 2005.

His wife said he worked in clinical pathology for 38 years at the National Institutes of Health and that he was particularly interested in open-heart surgery.

“He was always dedicated to whatever he did, and he did a good job, but I really do feel that with the knowledge he had gone much further,” she said.

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