July 03, 2019

Van Hollen, Congressional Black Caucus Team Up to Push for Woodson Medal of Honor

Today U.S. Senator Van Hollen (D-Md.) and 51 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), including CBC Chair Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Dwight Evans (D-Penn.), and Marc Veasey (D-Texas), and Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif), wrote to the Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy requesting a formal review to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Corporal Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., one of the Forgotten Heroes of WWII. Senator Van Hollen has been pushing for this award since 2015, and partnered with the CBC to continue that effort.

“Corporal Woodson was a hero who saved dozens, if not hundreds, of lives on Omaha Beach. His courage deserves to be honored with the Medal of Honor, and I continue to work with the Army to make this a reality,” said Senator Van Hollen, who was proud to team up with the Congressional Black Caucus on this new letter.

“Corporal Woodson is an American hero who deserves to be honored for his bravery, determination and resilience. The Black Caucus is proud to pay homage to a man who went beyond the call of duty to save dozens on D-Day. Nothing should stop Corporal Woodson from taking his rightful place in history and receiving the long overdue recognition for his service to America. We will continue to work alongside leaders like Senator Van Hollen to ensure Corporal Woodson receives the Medal of Honor,” said Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Corporal Woodson was a true American hero who selflessly and courageously risked his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers,” Congressman Cummings said. “It is time to right the wrongs of the past and award Corporal Woodson the Medal of Honor to recognize his exceptional service to our country.”

Congressman Evans said, “I want to make sure that everyone who has earned a medal is awarded one, including a longtime Philadelphian and hero like Corporal Woodson. I don’t want past discrimination to be a barrier. I don’t want the 1973 military records fire to be a barrier. If someone has earned a medal, I want them to be awarded that medal, bottom line.”

“It is a remarkable act of patriotism to risk one’s life for a country that has not treated you fairly. Corporal Woodson and other World War II African-American soldiers helped save the very democracy that excluded them. That’s why we must honor their bravery and love of country today by awarding Corporal Woodson the Medal of Honor,” said Congressman Marc Veasey. 

The text of the letter is available below and here.

Dear Acting Secretary McCarthy:

We are writing to request a formal review by an award decision authority to posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Corporal Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., one of the Forgotten Heroes of WWII.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, Cpl. Woodson, an Army medic assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, landed on Omaha Beach. Despite having been struck by shrapnel while aboard his Landing Craft Tank and being wounded in his groin and back, Cpl. Woodson went above and beyond the call of duty by spending 30 grueling hours saving the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of his fellow soldiers. Cpl. Woodson was a war hero who has been inadequately recognized for his actions on D-Day.

We understand that the Army is preventing a formal review by an award decision authority due to the lack of an original award recommendation.  The documentation of Cpl. Woodson’s valorous actions on D-Day have been supported by Linda Hervieux, a journalist whose 2015 book titled Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, At Home and At War, cited a memorandum in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library that comments on Cpl. Woodson’s extraordinary bravery. This memorandum to the Roosevelt White House from War Department aide Philleo Nash states:

“Here is a Negro from Philadelphia who has been recommended for a suitable award. He was first recommended by his C.O. for a Distinguished Service Cross, but General Lee’s offices said the act merited a Congressional medal … This is a big enough award so that the President can give it personally….”

This powerful statement refers to the recommendation of Cpl. Woodson by his Commanding Officer for the Distinguished Service Cross. It indicates that after the initial recommendation was made, the office of U.S. General John C.H. Lee in Britain said that Cpl. Woodson’s actions merited a Congressional Medal—one given by the President of the United States. There is only one medal to which the General could have been referring: the Medal of Honor.   

Based on extensive research on his service record, it is clear that Cpl. Woodson did not receive the Medal of Honor during WWII because of the color of his skin. We believe that the Army has sufficient evidence of the required recommendation to, at a minimum, permit a formal review by an award decision authority. Accordingly, we respectfully ask the Army to rectify this historic injustice and appropriately recognize this valorous Veteran with a posthumous recommendation for the Medal of Honor.

We look forward to your prompt response.