Waverly B. Woodson, Jr was a medic on D-Day. Despite his own injuries from a mine explosion, Woodson continued to treat other wounded soldiers for 30 hours. His actions, chronicled by his white superior officer, earned him a Bronze Star. But Woodson is only one of many black soldiers who acted out of duty and honor to their uniform.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Allied forces executed a massive invasion along a 50-mile stretch of coastline in northern France occupied by Hitler’s so-called Fortress Europe. D-Day was a massive operation, the largest amphibious force in American military history, and involved 5,000 ships and landing craft, 160,000 troops and 11,000 aircraft providing support. Four thousand Allied troops died in the Normandy invasion and thousands more were wounded or missing as troops scrambled ashore drawing machine-gun fire from the cliffs above the beach. Omaha and Utah beaches were assigned to U.S. Forces. The U.S. First Army Division faced heavy opposition on Omaha Beach where 2,000 American soldiers died. On that morning, seventy-one years ago, Negro soldiers did their part with tenacity, adaptability and bold action. Some 1,700 black troops were part of the First Army including the 327th Quartermaster Service Company and the 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, which used helium-filled balloons tethered to explosives to thwart German aerial attacks.
A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day is a 2007 History Channel documentary which brings to life, through first-person testimonials, the challenges of black troops on D-Day. “You see movies and stuff. The Longest Day, you don’t see know African Americans. Private Ryan, no African Americans….but we were there!”
On this day of commemoration of D-Day. I salute these unsung heroes.