Van Hollen, Trone Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Posthumously Award Maryland WWII Veteran Cpl. Woodson with Medal of Honor
Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and U.S. Representatives David Trone and Anthony Brown (both D-Md.) were joined by Mrs. Joann Woodson, the widow of Maryland WWII Veteran Corporal Waverly Woodson, to announce new bipartisan, bicameral legislation to authorize the President to award Cpl. Woodson the Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism during World War II, and specifically his courageous and selfless actions during the D-Day invasion. While Cpl. Woodson was previously awarded a Bronze Star, as a Black Veteran he was not considered at the time for a Medal of Honor.
The new legislation is cosponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.). In the House the legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.).
Since 2015, Senator Van Hollen has pushed the Army to consider Cpl. Woodson for the Medal of Honor, including in a letter he led with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In response to the Army’s failure to act, the lawmakers are introducing legislation to award Cpl. Woodson this honor.
The text of the legislation can be found here.
“Cpl. Waverly Woodson’s bravery during the D-Day invasion saved dozens – if not hundreds – of American lives. But his valor was never fully recognized due to the color of his skin. That’s unacceptable. It’s past time that we right this historical wrong and provide Cpl. Woodson and his family with the recognition that his heroism merits. I was proud to announce this legislation alongside Mrs. Joann Woodson today after she has fought so many years for her late husband’s cause. We’ll be pushing to pass this bill immediately,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“This is a chance to preserve Waverly’s legacy and correct history. He felt serving was his duty to his country. I want to thank everyone working in this effort to right this wrong and get my husband the recognition he deserves,” said Mrs. Joann Woodson.
“Today, we are taking action to address racial injustice embedded in our nation's history by working to secure Cpl. Waverly Woodson a posthumous Medal of Honor. Cpl. Woodson was a hero to our community and to our country, and I am honored to work with my colleagues to help protect his legacy. It is time for us to right this wrong and ensure that Cpl. Woodson's bravery and integrity is recognized for generations to come,” said Congressman Trone.
“Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American heroes, and Corporal Waverly Woodson stands out among them. Cpl. Woodson was an Army medic in the only Black combat unit to participate in the D-Day landings. Despite being wounded twice during the battle’s early stages, he remained in the fight for 30 hours and treated as least 200 of his injured brothers-in-arms. He rightfully earned the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his valor, but was denied the Medal of Honor because of the color of his skin. The legislation seeks to right that wrong, and I am glad to play a small role in honoring Cpl. Woodson’s life and service,” said Senator Toomey.
"Corporal Waverly B. Woodson, Jr. served in World War II with honor and distinction, and deserves this country's highest recognition for his exemplary service," said House Armed Services Committee Vice Chair Anthony Brown. "Our country and armed forces have for too long overlooked the service of Black soldiers. It is vital that this generation tell their stories and to celebrate heroes from all races and backgrounds. Cpl. Woodson is an American hero and has earned the Medal of Honor.”
“I’m pleased that Congress will help provide Corporal Woodson proper recognition for incredible acts of heroism during World War II,” said Senator Cardin. “The systemic racism that blocked Black servicemen from receiving the highest honors due has ended, but it has not been fully reversed. Heroes like Corporal Woodson deserve a higher level of respect and gratitude from our nation.”
Since 2015, Senator Van Hollen has been working on the posthumous Medal of Honor upgrade for Corporal Waverly B. Woodson, Jr. (1922-2005), a Black Army medic assigned to the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion during World War II.
In the early hours of June 6, 1944, Cpl. Woodson 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 spent 30 grueling hours saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. As a result of his heroic actions on D-Day, Woodson was recommended for the Medal of Honor but never received it. No Black Americans who served during World War II received the Medal of Honor. It was not until 1997 that seven Black service-members were awarded the Medal of Honor retroactively by President Clinton. Cpl. Woodson made the short list for this but was not selected due to a lack of documentation.
Although contemporaneous news reports and other documents reflect not only Cpl. Woodson’s heroism but an intent by his commander to recommend him for the Medal, this case lacks the documentation typically required for retroactive medal upgrade requests. For reasons beyond Cpl. Woodson’s control, the documentation available has been determined by the Army to be insufficient to satisfy the standard used in other cases of retroactive medal upgrades. Historian-journalist, Linda Hervieux, has spent more than three years reviewing archives for supporting documentation, searching several times at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, and the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. She worked with Army staff historians as well as enlisted a search for records trail by the Awards and Decorations Branch of the Army.
Cpl. Woodson was a hero who saved dozens, if not hundreds, of troops on Omaha Beach. His wife, Joann Woodson, is 91 years old and resides in Clarksburg, Md. and is very involved in ensuring that her late husband gets the recognition he deserves. If awarded the Medal of Honor, she intends to donate it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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