The Pardu

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Jon Randal: D-Day Another Perspective

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The Invisible Negro ~ image added via The Pardu

By Jon S. Randal

You may not have read about them in your history books, you may not have seen them in any of the D-Day commemorations, but if you notice in some of the D-Day pictures what looks like balloons in the air over the beaches on D-Day, protecting the men swimming ashore from low-flying aircraft - there was a special unit, which controlled those "barrage balloons." It was the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion – the first African American unit in the segregated US Army to come ashore on D-Day.

The 1,500-man unit's mission was to set in the air barrage balloons to protect assaulting infantry and armor from being strafed by enemy aircraft. In forcing enemy planes to higher altitudes, surprise invasions became less likely and bombing accuracy was hampered as well. The balloons restricted the airspace available to rogue aircraft, channeling their flights into zones protected by ground-based artillery. 

The unit's first assignment was Utah and Omaha beaches on June 6, 1944. They also saw combat in France at Saint-Lô, the Battle of the Bulge during the siege of Bastogne, and the Rhine River Crossing.

Many of these courageous men had been forgotten by history. One of the men, Bill Pinkney (1925–2007), is remembered only because he eventually became one of the last original members of the vocal group the Drifters.

Another member of the 320th was Corporal Waverly B. Woodson, Jr., a second-class citizen in terms of the rights he enjoyed as an African-American citizen of his own country, but a hero on D-Day. Serving as a medical corpsman with the unit, Woodson, already wounded from a shrapnel wound, continued treating casualties for the next 18 hours, including assisting in retrieving and reviving three soldiers who had nearly drowned. 

Pinkney and Woodson were just two of the over one million black GIs and WACs who loyally served in the armed forces in defense of their country during World War II.

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