Waverly Woodson, Jr. was a medic from Philadelphia who served in World War II with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only Black combat unit to participate in D-Day. As one of the first Black soldiers to make it onto Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944, Woodson ended up saving the lives of more than 200 soldiers of both Black and white soldiers that day.
When the U.S. soldiers reached the French coast, the German army began to attack. “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. Then they started with the mortar shells,” Woodson told the AP in 1994.
Woodson himself was hit by a mortar and shrapnel tore apart one of his legs. However, that was not an impediment to helping his companions because when he finished bandaging his wounds, he set up a medical tent and began treating the soldiers around him who were also being hit by barrages of German gunfire.
For 30 hours, Woodson revived soldiers, performed amputations, and spent hours pulling shrapnel or bullets out of wounds before he passed out from his own wounds.
Woodson, however, never received a Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration given to those who display extraordinary valor in action.
Hundreds of Medals of Honor were given out during World War II, but not a single one went to a Black soldier, even though more than 1 million African-Americans served in the conflict.