Lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that would posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson Jr., a Black army medic who saved dozens of wounded troops on D-Day despite being severely wounded, who they say was denied the honor because of his race.
Woodson, arrived at the beaches of Normandy June 6, 1944. along with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the only African American unit to land that day, according to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who is co-sponsoring the legislation. At the time, the United States military was still segregated by race.
He set up a medical aid station where he treated at least 200 of his fellow soldiers and at one point rescued four men from drowning. After more than 30 hours on the beach, he collapsed from his injuries having saved "dozens if not hundreds" of soldiers from dying, Van Hollen said.
Although he was lauded and award a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service, Van Hollen said Woodson never considered for the Medal of Honor because he was Black.
No Black Americans who served during World War II received the Medal of Honor until 1997 when President Bill Clinton awarded seven Black service-members the Medal of Honor retroactively. Woodson was on the short list at the time but was not selected due to a lack of documentation.
In 2015, Woodson's widow, Joann, brought the issue to Van Hollen's attention and the senator has been advocating for him ever since.
“We want to have a legacy for our family, and it is now the time to right the wrong and it can be done. He deserves it,” Joann Woodson, 91, said during a press conference. “History has to be as correct as it possibly can be, and this is one way to get it corrected.”
Van Hollen said that although Woodson was recommended by his commander for the Medal of Honor, the Army insisted more documentation was needed. Those records were likely destroyed in a fire in 1973.
Linda Hervieux, a journalist who wrote a book about African American troops who took part in D-Day, said there is a trail of documentation that indicate Woodson was recommended for the Medal of Honor. Hervieux cited a memorandum in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library that comments on Woodson’s bravery and notes that Woodson’s actions merited a Congressional Medal given by the president.
The bill would allow President Donald Trump to award the nation's highest military honor to Woodson, who died in 2005. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, US Reps. David Trone and Anthony Brown, both Democrats from Maryland, are among the many co-sponsors of the bill.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lawmakers push to award posthumous Medal of Honor to Black WWII medic