Book, petition seek to write black battalion back into history

By Lara Szott

In a book released last month, journalist Linda Hervieux documents the previously untold tribulations of the all-black military battalion who served the United States during World War II.

The book, “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War,” profiles the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion who fought during the D-Day invasion. At an author event Wednesday at American University, Hervieux described the racism endured by black soldiers during the war.

Military bases, like U.S. cities, were segregated at the time.

Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration Soldiers of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration
Soldiers of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

Segregation on military bases inspired Hervieux’s book. Black soldiers were housed separately from white soldiers, which Hervieux said was a “very inefficient way to run an army.” Angered, Hervieux wanted to learn more about all-black brigades.

On June 7, 1944, Sgt. Waverly Woodson of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion dragged four drowning soldiers from the Utah Beach of Normandy and taught others how to revive soldiers still washing ashore. He worked tirelessly for 30 hours straight, and when he returned to the states he was commended for his service.

In Jim Crow America, Sgt. Woodson never received the honor he deserved — a Medal of Honor, Hervieux said. Hervieux and the AU community are working to change that through a petition backed by Rep. Chris van Hollen, D-Md., which is circulating to award Sgt. Woodson the Medal of Honor.

“The more people who support this, the more movement we can get on how many people really want this to happen,” said Hervieux. “Politics move by public pressure, hopefully we can do that.”

The original records of the battalion were burned in a 1973 fire at the Military Records Archive in St. Louis, Missouri. Hervieux found information from archived payroll forms that began in November of 1943.

Hervieux contacted the veterans of the battalion as well as family members of the deceased fighters. She stitched together pictures from relatives and scoured every document she could access, including old military records.

“Some of these archives crumbled at my fingertips,” Hervieux said.

Read a letter by Waverly Woodson’s wife, Joann Woodson, and documents regarding Woodson’s military service.