First Army WWII soldier posthumously awarded Combat Medic Badge

Arsenal health clinic was renamed for this hero in 2022

On its 105th birthday, Rock Island Arsenal’s First Army received news better than any present: the unit’s beloved D-Day hero, Staff Sgt. Waverly Woodson, would at long last be awarded the prestigious Combat Medic Badge for his gallant actions on Omaha Beach. a news release says.

Woodson, for whom the health clinic on the Arsenal was renamed in 2022, is credited with saving the lives of dozens, or perhaps even hundreds, of soldiers during 30 grueling hours of combat on June 6, 1944. His heroic actions came despite his own grievous wounds during the beach landing – to his groin, back, and thigh.

Staff Sgt. Waverly Woodson (contributed photo)

Even as Woodson lost significant blood himself, his courageous D-Day acts included rescuing
drowning soldiers, setting limbs, removing bullets, dispensing plasma, and performing a
foot amputation, all under enemy fire.

First Army over the years has continued to remember and honor Woodson, including supporting an ongoing effort that he be upgraded for the Medal of Honor. It has long been believed that Woodson was denied this award because he was Black. During World War II, no African American Soldiers were awarded the nation’s highest medal for valor. In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor to seven Black World War II veterans.

Woodson was considered at that time, but not enough evidence could be found to support the upgrade. First Army’s historian, Capt. Kevin Braafladt, has worked tirelessly for years to comb through records to find evidence of Woodson’s heroics and unheralded service. Hundreds of hours of research – online, at the National Archives, in holdings at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, and at numerous presidential historical libraries – have turned up documents previously undiscovered that help to piece together Woodson’s extraordinary acts and service.

Among those who are actively leading a continuing effort to have Woodson posthumously award the Medal of Honor included former First Army Commander Lt. Gen. (Retired) Thomas James Jr. James called Woodson an “unsung hero” and said the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal “didn’t seem enough, not nearly enough” for his gallantry in action and extraordinary

Additionally, a bipartisan group of 12 U.S. Senators currently is championing the effort, long pushed by Woodson’s widow, JoAnn, 95, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. Although Woodson died in 2005, Mrs. Woodson has never slowed in her push for her husband to be honored by the nation he served.

Cpt. Braafladt said Medal of Honor Medal reviews are a long and detailed process, even
more difficult without documentation. Part of the issue was that Woodson’s official recommendation may have been lost in a fire. Thousands of files were destroyed at the
National Personnel Records Center in Saint Louis in 1973.

“Medal of Honor reviews are designed to ensure accuracy for the nature of the distinguished award. Part of the issue in this case is that many of the traditional record locations have been lost or destroyed over time,” Braafladt said. “To create a justification that is strong enough to submit for review means searching in nontraditional locations to “rebuild” the lost information. We want to do everything we can to be as through as we can to try and correct the record to honor SSG Woodson and his dedicated service.”

So nearly eight decades since he was a combat medic, Woodson will finally be officially acknowledged as one. Originally established as the Medical Badge, the Combat Medical Badge (CMB) was created by the War Department on 1 March 1945. It could be awarded to officers, warrant officers, and enlisted Soldiers of the Medical Department assigned or attached to the medical detachment of infantry regiments, infantry battalions, and elements thereof designated as infantry in tables of organization or tables of organization and equipment.

In April 2022, when the Rock Island Arsenal’s health clinic was renamed in Woodson’s honor, his actions were noted:

“Woodson, then 21, and a First U.S. Army Soldier with the rank of corporal, performed with the highest bravery June 6, 1944, as part of the first wave of U.S. Soldiers who stormed Omaha Beach at Normandy, France, on what became known as D-Day. It was when more than 160,000 Allied troops landed on Normandy’s beaches to begin the operation that would liberate Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control.

In a rare press release when the Army was still segregated by race, the Army announced Woodson saved “more than 200 casualties on the invasion beaches of France.’’

The ceremony program stated: ‘‘Gravely wounded on approach – shrapnel had ripped open his thigh and buttocks – he hastily set up a first aid station on Omaha Beach and got to work. He dragged the dead and wounded from the surf. He removed bullets, dispensed blood plasma, even amputated one man’s right foot. Thirty hours later, Woodson was on the brink of collapse from fatigue and blood loss when he saw three British soldiers drowning in the rough sea. He rushed to their aid and performed CPR. All survived.’’

Braafladt said the awarding of the Combat Medic Badge is just one more step in fully acknowledging Woodson for the hero he was – even as the effort to award him the nation’s highest valor award continues to gain national support and traction.