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Ceremony Marks New Name for RIA Health Clinic to Woodson Health Clinic, Honoring World War II Combat Medic

Image of Stephen Woodson looks at the plaque painting of his father, Staff Sgt. Waverly Woodson Jr., a World War II First U.S. Army combat medic hero, following the unveiling of it during a renaming dedication ceremony at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, April 14. The health clinic was renamed Woodson Health Clinic. (Photo: Jon Micheal Connor, ASC Public Affairs) . Stephen Woodson looks at the plaque painting of his father, Staff Sgt. Waverly Woodson Jr., a World War II First U.S. Army combat medic hero, following the unveiling of it during a renaming dedication ceremony at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, April 14. The health clinic was renamed Woodson Health Clinic. (Photo: Jon Micheal Connor, ASC Public Affairs)

The Rock Island Arsenal Health Clinic received a new name in honor of a heroic First U.S. Army Soldier in a moving ceremony here in Heritage Hall April 14.

The new name is the Woodson Health Clinic in honor of Staff Sgt. Waverly B. Woodson Jr.

Present at the ceremony was his son, Stephen Woodson, who was one of four people providing remarks, and who took part in the unveiling of a framed painting of Woodson now hanging in the clinic.

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."

Several speakers told of the racism and prejudice African-American Soldiers, like Woodson, endured during this period of U.S. history.

Maj. Gen. Chris Mohan, commanding general, U.S. Army Sustainment Command and senior mission commander of RIA, called Woodson a "true American hero" for his valiant efforts during his service.

"This is a great day for our arsenal; it's a great day for our Army," Mohan said. "Today, it is our distinct honor and privilege to name what was simply known as the Rock Island Arsenal Health Clinic for a true American Hero, someone whose heroism has gone unrecognized for far, far too long."

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."

Mohan added "We are righting a historical wrong. He did not consider skin color when he was treating wounded Soldiers at Omaha Beach."

Woodson was not properly recognized for his valor because of his skin color, Mohan said.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas James Jr., former commanding general of First U.S. Army from 2018 to 2021, helped lead a continuing effort to have Woodson posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor. It is awarded for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

One month before his retirement in June 2021, James wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed titled "77 years later, still seeking appropriate honor for a heroic Black medic on D-Day," highlighting the ongoing congressional effort to upgrade Woodson's Bronze Star to the Medal of Honor.

"I am honored to be in the same Army as Waverly Woodson," James said.

He said of the 400-plus Medals of Honor presented during World War II, not a single one went to any of the 1 million African-Americans who served during that time. In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African-Americans who had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, according to the National World War ll Museum of New Orleans.

Woodson was called back into active service in 1950, when the Korean War broke out, to train new Army combat medics at Fort Benning, Georgia. But, Woodson was re-assigned to work at an Army morgue, once leadership there saw that he was not white.

James, who called Woodson an "unsung hero" said the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal "didn't seem enough, not nearly enough" for his gallantry in action and extraordinary heroism.

Participating in the unveiling of the Woodson art dedication was Stephen Woodson, Mohan, James, Lt. Gen. Antonio Aguto Jr., commanding general, First U.S. Army, Brig. Gen. Mary Krueger, commander, Regional Health Command-Atlantic, and Col. Vincent Myers, commander, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Stephen said his father didn't speak much of the war until he flew to France for a 50th D-Day memorial anniversary. He was one of three veterans invited to visit Normandy by France to commemorate the anniversary of the D-Day landings. The government of France presented him with a commemorative medallion.

"He started opening up more when he came back," Stephen said, and added his father was "very, very proud to be in First Army."

Despite not achieving his goals of becoming a doctor and surgeon, Stephen said his father "still had a very successful career" working in medicine at the National Institute of Health, overseeing the staffing and operation of surgical rooms until his retirement in 1980.

He died in 2005, and is survived by his wife, JoAnn, now 94, and two adult children, Stephen and Elaine.

After the ceremony, a cake-cutting reception and tour was held in the clinic.

The Woodson Health Clinic provides primary care services for more than 1,940 active-duty Soldiers, active-duty family members, retirees, and retiree family members. The clinic supports several commands to include First U.S. Army, ASC, Army Contracting Command - Rock Island, Corps of Engineers - Rock Island District, Joint Munitions Command and many other units. The team operates an occupational health clinic for Civilian employees in addition to an industrial hygiene cell to support both Civilian and military workers employed at the various factories at RIA.

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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