Even the briefest glance at the life and times of Jesus recorded in the Bible, provides a staggering insight into his choice of friends, choice of team and choice of dinner guests. The society he came into was rigged in favour of certain types of people. His response was to line up alongside the overlooked, the mistreated and the victims of prejudice and injustice. The only thing that history seems to teach us is that history teaches us nothing at all. The same hallmarks blight our, so-called, developed society today as it consistently fails to celebrate the beautiful diversity of the human race.
This is a very famous location in France known to the Americans as Bloody Omaha. This is where it all went so badly wrong as those brave boys fought a desperate battle to gain a foothold on Hitler’s Fortress Europe on June 6th 1944. D-Day. When you analyse that world changing day of days, what you realise is that there arethousands of personal stories that made the difference. Waverley Woodson was a black man who served in the US Army with distinction during the Second World War. This is his story.
There’s a commonly held view that no black soldiers were present on the Normandy landing beaches. It’s the reason why they are seldom depicted in movies like Saving Private Ryan. But the truth is quite the opposite, nearly 2,000 of them were here by the end of D-Day. 21 year old Woodson, an army medic, came ashore here on Omaha Beach under withering machine gun fire and immediately got to work saving the lives of more than 200 men. He then, set up an aid station just off the beach cleaning wounds, removing bullets, resetting broken bones and amputating the foot of a terrified young soldier who was bleeding to death.
An incredible series of actions given that he’d been badly injured himself when the landing craft he was inwas blown apart, killing the man standing next to him. Even before he reached the sand, he’d saved four men from drowning, administering CPR to all of them close at the waterline. After two days on this battlefield, Woodson collapsed from exhaustion, dehydration and blood loss and was transferred to a hospital ship out at sea. True to his convictions and remarkable dedication to duty, he was back on the frontline within three days.
In the days after D-Day his commanding officer put his name forward for the Distinguished Service Cross. Senior officers believed he deserved the Medal of Honour, the highest award given to serving American servicemen for valour above and beyond the call of duty but it never happened. Hundreds of Medals of Honour were awarded during World War II, but not a single one went to a black soldier, even though more than a million served in the conflict. Sometimes the real winners don’t get the prize and sometimes they are not even acknowledged. Decades after the war, a US Senator said this “Waverley Woodson saved hundreds of men on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The only thing that stood between him and proper recognition was the colour of his skin. This is an opportunity for the US military to put that right.”
It is now widely acknowledged that racism was to blame for both the American and British military’s failure to honour soldiers of colour during World War II. And then on January 13th 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded Medals of Honour to seven black soldiers who had served in WWII with distinction but only one of them was still alive to receive it. Waverley Woodson died in 2005 and his family are still campaigning for the honour to be given to him posthumously. If ever proof were needed that God is on the side of the forgotten it can be found in the life of his son. The Bible describes Jesus as a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. People even said that nothing good ever comes out of the town where he grew up.
Through his actions, reactions and interactions, Jesus Christ set out to level the playing field, prioritising the overlooked and validating the victims of gender, racial and others forms of bigotry. In a world that had been carved up and segregated, Jesus tore down the barriers to reach people who are loved by God. He still does.