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D-Day Medic Waverly Woodson Saved Lives at Normandy Beach; Awarded Distinguished Service Cross

Image of Family members and key speakers honor World War II medic U.S. Army Cpl. Waverly Woodson. Family members and key speakers honor World War II medic U.S. Army Cpl. Waverly Woodson at the conclusion of his posthumous awards ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, on Oct. 11, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tykeera Murray, 174th Infantry Brigade Public Affairs)

Military Medical Clinic in Illinois Named in his Honor in 2022

An unarmed medic’s courageous actions on June 6, 1944, D-Day—the day the Allies invaded Western Europe in World War II—helped save the lives of hundreds of soldiers.

WoodsonU.S. Army medic Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson Jr. in an official photo from before he was deployed to Europe. (Courtesy, U.S. Army)

U.S. Army Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson Jr., 21, assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, First Army, attended to scores of wounded on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, while seriously wounded himself. First Army troops landed on Omaha and Utah Beaches, with First Army commanding all American ground forces during the invasion.

Woodson has received several honors and recognition for his actions, and just this week, it was announced that he will be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest honor for valor.

Selflessness in Action

Coming ashore in the third wave of assault, Woodson’s landing craft tank took heavy fire, hit a naval mine, lost power, and drifted to shore.

According to U.S. Army historian Kevin Hymel, who covered Woodson’s posthumous awards ceremony October 11, 2023, at Arlington National Ceremonyopens, Woodson was gravely wounded by mortar shrapnel tearing through his groin and back. He had his wounds tended to quickly and then waded through chest-high water onto the beach, where he and other medics set up a field-dressing station under a rocky tank roll embankment so they could begin treating wounded soldiers.

Woodson set broken limbs, removed bullets, amputated one soldier’s right foot, mended gaping wounds, transfused blood, and dispensed plasma. All the while, his physical condition worsened from his hastily patched wounds.

Pinned on the beach by intense small arm and artillery fire, Woodson worked continuously for 30 hours before collapsing from his injuries, pain, and blood loss and evacuated to a nearby hospital ship, according to Hymel’s historical account.

During those hours, he treated scores of wounded and dying men—some accounts put the number at about 200 service members—and even pulled ashore and resuscitated three drowning British soldiers after he was finally relieved of duty.

Woodson survived his injuries and the war. He later studied medical technology and worked for 28 years at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the National Institutes of Health.

D-Day Medic Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, Jr.

Honors and Recognition

In 1994, he was invited to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day to receive France’s highest honor, the French Legion of Honor.

In 2015, Lincoln University paid tribute to Woodson’s extraordinary sacrifices by accepting photos, letters, newspaper articles and medals that give testament to what Woodson accomplished. Woodson's legacy is a permanent part of Lincoln's research materials. Woodson had been a student at Lincoln when he enlisted in the Army in 1942, and he returned after his service to graduate with a degree in biology in 1950. He then re-enlisted and served in the Korean Conflict.

On April 14, 2022, he was recognized by having a military medical clinic named in his honor. The Woodson Health Clinic at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, provides primary care services to nearly 2,000 soldiers, retirees, and family members.

Woodson died in 2005. On Oct. 11, 2023, Woodson’s widow, Joann, and son, Stephen, were presented with his WWII-era Bronze Star and Combat Medic Badge during a graveside ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, where Woodson is buried.

Woodson "truly was a hero on Omaha Beach," said U.S. Army Capt. Kevin Braafladt, during the 2023 Arlington National Cemetery ceremony for Woodson’s family.

Distinguished Service Cross to be Awarded

Earlier this week, it was announced that Woodson, who served in the only African American unit deployed on D-Day, will be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest U.S. military honor, and the highest military honor the U.S. Army can bestow.

“We are deeply proud to count Waverly Woodson as one of the heroes and warriors who make up our long and proud First Army lineage,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William A. Ryan III, acting commanding general of First Army, in a statement. “We always say we stand on the shoulders of giants—Mr. Woodson is certainly one of them.”  

And on this 80th Anniversary of D-Day, a team of First Army leaders carried a WWII-era Distinguished Service Cross to Omaha Beach, Normandy. On June 6, they will lay the medal in the sands of Omaha Beach, at the spot where Woodson would have landed and set up his aid station. The medal will be then presented to the Woodson family during an award ceremony later this summer.

Ryan said, “We want to be able to tell Mrs. Woodson that the medal she is receiving on behalf of her beloved husband has actually been to Normandy, has actually been to the very place he performed his truly remarkable actions.

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