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By Roosevelt “Rick” Wright, Jr., Ph.D., CAPT., USNR(ret) – Historian, National Naval Officers Association

African Americans during WWII

Credits to Barbara Lewis Burger, National Archives

As we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the 6th of June 1944, the National Naval Officers Association would like to present a major “Bravo Zulu” to the veterans, living and dead, who participated in Operations Overlord. This amphibious invasion of the Shores of France at Normandy, was fought to bring a massive assault to the Axis powers of Europe. In this air and sea campaign composing of thousands of Soldiers, Airmen, Naval, and Coast Guard personnel, African-American membership was over 2,000 participants. Although participation of African-American servicemen was regulated to service units of Quartermasters, Engineers, Transportation, and Mess Attendants. We must remember, that African-American Service members did serve in demanding combat roles. In making a historical analysis of the contributions of African-Americans in combat roles, most writers of the era have placed a “level of invisibility,” to this effort. But there is an “Unknown Perspective” of combat contributions of African-American personnel on that fateful day, that many historians call – “The Longest Day.”

“Operation Overlord” was the major code name for this operation, but the Naval and Coast Guard effort was entitled, “Operation Neptune.” Serving on board the many Naval Ships and Coast Guard Cutters were African-American sailors who were part of those crews. For example, Seaman John Roberts, U.S. Coast Guard, served a part of the crew of USS LCI-93, as was injured, as they delivered infantry solders to Omaha Beach. Also, on board, Coast Guard Manned LCVP’s, LST’s, and 83 Footers, African-American seaman were performing extraordinary duties during the height of this mammoth environment of battle and human carnage. Further combat actions can also be attribute to the gallant work of African-American sailors, who were serving as mainly mess cooks and stewards on board the vast array of Battleships, Cruisers, Destroyers, Transports, and Supply Ships of the Naval Fleet.

On board a Coast Guard Manned LCT, combat history was made when the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, an all African-American Army Combat unit was delivered to the shores of Omaha Beach. This unit was trained to launch large balloons, with bombs in them. This enabled an array of “sky flying balloons,” floating in a manner to stop German aircraft from attacking the troops landing on the beach. One of many heroes that day was, African-American Corporal Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., U.S. Army Medic, who despite serious injuries, setup a hospital on Omaha Beach, work for 30 hours straight hours, and provided medical care for hundreds of seriously wounded combat soldiers.

There are many unknown stories of African-American Service Members who participated in the horrific events of 6 June 1944, but on this the 75th Anniversary of that Fateful Day, the National Naval Officers Association Membership, would like to “Simply Honor Their Sacrifices and Struggle,” during a period of “Racial Discrimination,” in WWII, within the Ranks of The U.S. Armed Forces. May we continue the “Remembrance of D-Day,” to the ranks of those that served and fought, who are all “passing away,” to heaven, as many are now in the 90th year of their birth.


Roosevelt “Rick” Wright, Jr., Ph.D., CAPT., USNR (Ret.)
Historian – National Naval Officers Association