Heroic Combat Medic Honored After All This Time

A combat medic who treated dozens of troops in northern France during World War Two will be honored in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson Jr. served with the only African-American combat unit to land in Normandy on June 6, 1944 – known as D-Day. Woodson was injured almost immediately after landing but still treated his fellow soldiers until the moment he collapsed from blood loss.

Mr. Woodson lived with his wife in Maryland until his death in 2005. The Philadelphia-born hero is buried at Arlington Cemetery, where his widow and son will receive a Bronze Star and Combat Medic Badge on his behalf.

More than 57,000 US troops participated in the land invasion of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France in June 1944. They were part of a total of 132,000 soldiers sent from the UK and Canada to drive the Nazis out of France, and records show that between June 6 and July 1, the US sustained 22,119 casualties.

In 1994, Waverly Woodson described his experience of reaching Normandy and meeting the 850,000 German troops that lay in wait. “The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s hit us,” he said, referring to the 88 mm guns used by Nazi soldiers. “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,” he recounted.

Black and white US troops were segregated at the time, and while civil rights proponents argued for an end to this during World War Two, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that while segregation would continue, black Americans could sign up to serve.

Historical records describe how black and white soldiers maintained entirely separate lives and even used distinct blood banks and hospital wards. Matthew Delmont, a history professor at Dartmouth College, said black troops were kept in “slave-like conditions” and “treated like animals” while regularly subject to racial taunts and insults.