Push continues to get Medal of Honor to ‘Forgotten Hero’ of World War II

Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been working to make sure that a Maryland man is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Omaha Beach in World War II.

Van Hollen issued a statement in support of the effort to award the honor to Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, an African American who was a U.S. Army medic.

After being hit by shrapnel during the June 6, 1944 landing on Omaha Beach, Woodson went on to treat the injured for 30 hours before collapsing himself.

Waverly Woodson’s army portrait.

“Corporal Woodson was a hero who saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives on Omaha Beach. His courage deserves to be honored with the Medal of Honor, and I continue to work with the Army to make this a reality,” Van Hollen wrote.

Van Hollen joined members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Maryland U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, to appeal to Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy to conduct a formal review so that Woodson could be given the Medal of Honor posthumously.

In a statement sent to McCarthy earlier this month, the members of Congress wrote that they concluded that Woodson didn’t get the Medal of Honor because of the color of his skin, and they believed that there is enough evidence to support granting the award to Woodson.

Woodson’s actions were detailed in the 2015 book “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, At Home and At War.” Author Linda Hervieux explains Woodson was nominated for the Medal of Honor but did not get it. He was, she said, awarded the Bronze Star for his actions.

“No African Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II until 1997 when President [Bill] Clinton awarded seven of them,” Hervieux said.

Woodson’s case was reviewed at that time, but a lack of documentation meant he would not be deemed eligible for the highest award.

Documenting Woodson’s case was complicated by the loss of millions of military service records in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Among the records lost in that fire, those of military personnel who were discharged between 1912-1964.

“Only a very tiny percentage of Army records from World War II have been retained. Many records are gone, including Waverly Woodson’s,” Hervieux said.

What is known, according to Hervieux, is that there was a handwritten note from an aide in the Office of War Information that was forwarded to an aide in the Roosevelt administration. That note, in the Truman Library, indicated that a man presumed to be Woodson, had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. But, according to Hervieux, “to the Army researchers who were trying to right the historical wrong, this was hearsay. This was not proof that he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor.”

“We have an extraordinary case that’s worthy of consideration,” Hervieux said.

In her telling, Hervieux describes how Woodson, an Army medic assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, was on a landing craft that was hit by shrapnel.

“Men are dead, the soldier next to him is killed,” she said, Woodson was also hit, his thigh and buttocks torn open by shrapnel. Another medic patched him up and once on the beach, Woodson sets up a medical tent to tend to the wounded, Hervieux said. “And for the next 30 hours, Waverly Woodson would work to save men.”

Woodson carried out surgeries, including an amputation, dispensed plasma, and even saved the lives of men who nearly drowned.

Hervieux said it’s important to remember the histories of African Americans, such as Woodson, who served with distinction in World War II. “We had contributions from these men who were written out of history and we, as Americans today, have an obligation to write them back in,” she said.

Woodson died at age 83 in 2005. His widow, Joann Woodson, who lives in Maryland, continues to fight for her late husband to get the award.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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