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D-Day was a segregated operation

On June 6, 1944, The American contingent of the Allied Forces landing on the Normandy beaches comprised 57,500 soldiers. Among them were the members of the 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion, consisting of 1,500 soldiers and 49 officers.

The 320th was originally organized for homeland defense, but late in 1943, the unit was designated for deployment to Europe.

The purpose of the low-flying, gas-filled balloons was anti-aircraft defense, and the 320th was among the American units that landed in Normandy on the morning of D-Day. The balloons were anchored to the ground by steel cables, which were meant to catch the wings of passing planes, causing them to crash.

While advancing American troops moved inland off the beaches, the men of the anti-aircraft battalion remained on the beach, maintaining their balloons.

Of the 31,912 American troops who landed on Utah Beach that morning, approximately 1,200 were black, including troops of the 320th Battalion, its members assigned to beaches all up and down the 55-mile coast, which was divided into five landing zones.

Corporal Waverly B. Woodson was a medic with the battalion, and went ashore with the rest of the unit. The landing craft in which he was riding struck a floating mine upon approach to the beach. The man next to him was killed, and Woodson was struck in the groin with shrapnel and badly wounded.

Ignoring his wounds, Woodson was under continuous machine gun and mortar fire while he established an aid station on the beach. Treating casualties for the next 18 hours, removing bullets, cleaning wounds, resetting broken bones, dispensing blood plasma, and even amputating a foot. In addition, he saved four men from drowning by pulling them to the shore and administering CPR.

Woodson treated at least 200 men before he finally collapsed from his injuries and was transferred to a hospital ship.

Woodson’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Leon J. Reed, who was white, recommended Woodson for the Medal of Honor for his actions on Omaha Beach on June 6. Instead, he was awarded a Bronze Star. Although over 1 million blacks served in the Armed Forces during World War II, not one was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Woodson was a pre-med student at Lincoln University and enlisted in the Army in December, 1942. Woodson passed an exam to enter Officer Candidate School, but was prevented from becoming an officer because he was black. He passed away in 2005.

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