By Nehemiah D. Frank
For black Americans, it’s easy for many of us to feel like the outliers while viewing the many photos and watching the many videos of D-Day coverage.
As a middle and high school student, when I was racially unconscious, I was never provoked to think about my racial connection to D-Day. I was innocently turned off by the seemingly white only narrative unfolding before my eyes. The story that was revealed to me was that there were no black heroes during the time Americans flew into Normandy, France, to fight the Nazis.
Perhaps I would have been more interested in the D-Day story had I saw people who looked like me fighting. It would have given me the inclination to want to pay more attention to the lesson because I could better imagine myself in the shoes of one of the black soldiers.
But that’s not what my middle and high school education afforded me, despite my natural obsession with history.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I discovered that countless of brave black American soldiers landed on Omaha Beach and fought as allies with the French to fight the Nazis on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France.
In 1944 America, black and white soldiers were legally still forced to segregate despite the magnitude of the dangerous situation on that day.
I can imagine, because it was unpopular to be black during that time, that the American media felt it unnecessary to film or photograph the footage of the black soldiers in action fighting also for white American liberty.
Corporal Waverly Woodson
The 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion of black soldiers set up explosive-rigged balloons to prevent German airplanes from attacking French and American soldiers.
Waverly Woodson, a medical worker, was one of the numerous black, courageous soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach in France and fought for the little rights he and other black Americans had during our nation’s Jim Crow era. Woodson is believed to have treated over 200 injuries in Normandy.
“The tide brought us in, and that’s when the 88s hit us,” he told the Associated Press in 1944. “They were murder. Of our 26 Navy personnel, there was only one left. They raked the whole top of the ship and killed all the crew. Then they [the Nazis] started with the mortar shells.”
Woodson was also wounded but continued aiding the other soldiers for another 30 hours before falling unconscious.
William Dabney was another black soldier who landed on Omaha Beach that day.
“The firing was furious on the beach. I was picking up dead bodies, and I was looking at the mines blowing up soldiers. I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not,” Dabney told the Associated Press in 2009.
Both soldiers are no longer living, but they are remembered on this day, the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Laid to rest, but never forgotten.
For more information on the black American heroes of D-Day checkout Linda Hervieux’s “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War.“
Waverly Woodson — A call to honor Sgt. Waverly Woodson, Jr’s. heroics at Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, and Community Advisory Board Member for the Tulsa World.