Black heroes in a white army

June 6, 1944, is enshrined in American history as the turning point of World War II.

But nearly all of the books and every movie about D-Day, the first day of the Normandy invasion of France, leave out an essential fact.

The U.S. Army’s 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, whose job was to protect soldiers landing on the beach, was an African-American unit.

This 621-man assault force raised hydrogen-filled barrage balloons as a barrier to strafing enemy aircraft, and their contribution was huge, said Linda Hervieux, the author of "Forgotten: The Untold Stories of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War."

Yet, "Saving Private Ryan," probably the best-known contemporary movie about D-Day, shows not a single black man on Omaha Beach.

Hervieux’s book honors the heroism of the men of 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, following them from their hometowns in Jim Crow America to their specialty Army training camp in Tennessee, where they experienced heartbreaking discrimination; even German prisoners of war were allowed to eat in restaurants where black soldiers were banned.

Alhough 1 million African-Americans served in World War II – fighting for justice and equality denied to them in their own country – none received the Medal of Honor until President Clinton awarded a handful in 1997.

In a phone interview, Hervieux talked about one of the soldiers, Waverly B. Woodson Jr., who was nominated for the Medal of Honor, though he never received it.

Woodson, an Army medic, was wounded twice and then worked 30 hours until he collapsed. He and four other black medics treated hundreds of men.

A premed student in Philadelphia before he joined the Army, Woodson was aware of the discrimination he would face when he signed up, Hervieux said. After the invasion, black newspapers called him "D-Day’s Hero No. 1."

Woodson died in 2005, but his widow is leading a campaign to secure a long-delayed Medal of Honor.

After their experiences in the segregated U.S. Army, the black soldiers’ treatment in Britain was "a revelation" Hervieux said.

"They welcomed African-Americans as heroes, even more so than the white soldiers, who wore out their welcome with sometimes boorish, drunken behavior," she said.

Hervieux is a journalist and Lowell, Mass., native, now based in Paris. She wrote the book after she covered the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009, when the French government honored William Dabney, a member of the all-black unit, with the Legion of Honor.

During the interviews, Dabney talked about the barrage balloons and the segregation of the Army into a "Black Army" and a "White Army," and Hervieux began to think about telling the whole story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion.

In the course of her work, Hervieux interviewed 12 men from the battalion and the families of some of the others.

"Some of the men had never spoken of their wartime adventures until I showed up at their doors," she writes in the book’s author note, and "some of their children had no idea that their fathers had been at D-Day."

"Forgotten" was published by HarperCollins and has received rave reviews.

The Washington Post review called it "Compelling … a welcome addition to our understanding of the war and the American military."

Douglas Brinkley, author of "Cronkite," said it is "hard to believe this story hasn’t been written before. Linda Hervieux’s ‘Forgotten’ is essential, fiercely dramatic, and ultimately inspiring. All Americans should read this World War II history, which doubles as a civil rights primer, to learn the true cost of freedom."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

Black heroes in a white army

June 6, 1944, is enshrined in American history as the turning point of World War II.

But nearly all of the books and every movie about D-Day, the first day of the Normandy invasion of France, leave out an essential fact.

The U.S. Army’s 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, whose job was to protect soldiers landing on the beach, was an African-American unit.

This 621-man assault force raised hydrogen-filled barrage balloons as a barrier to strafing enemy aircraft, and their contribution was huge, said Linda Hervieux, the author of "Forgotten: The Untold Stories of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War."

Yet, "Saving Private Ryan," probably the best-known contemporary movie about D-Day, shows not a single black man on Omaha Beach.

Hervieux’s book honors the heroism of the men of 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, following them from their hometowns in Jim Crow America to their specialty Army training camp in Tennessee, where they experienced heartbreaking discrimination; even German prisoners of war were allowed to eat in restaurants where black soldiers were banned.

Alhough 1 million African-Americans served in World War II – fighting for justice and equality denied to them in their own country – none received the Medal of Honor until President Clinton awarded a handful in 1997.

In a phone interview, Hervieux talked about one of the soldiers, Waverly B. Woodson Jr., who was nominated for the Medal of Honor, though he never received it.

Woodson, an Army medic, was wounded twice and then worked 30 hours until he collapsed. He and four other black medics treated hundreds of men.

A premed student in Philadelphia before he joined the Army, Woodson was aware of the discrimination he would face when he signed up, Hervieux said. After the invasion, black newspapers called him "D-Day’s Hero No. 1."

Woodson died in 2005, but his widow is leading a campaign to secure a long-delayed Medal of Honor.

After their experiences in the segregated U.S. Army, the black soldiers’ treatment in Britain was "a revelation" Hervieux said.

"They welcomed African-Americans as heroes, even more so than the white soldiers, who wore out their welcome with sometimes boorish, drunken behavior," she said.

Hervieux is a journalist and Lowell, Mass., native, now based in Paris. She wrote the book after she covered the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009, when the French government honored William Dabney, a member of the all-black unit, with the Legion of Honor.

During the interviews, Dabney talked about the barrage balloons and the segregation of the Army into a "Black Army" and a "White Army," and Hervieux began to think about telling the whole story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion.

In the course of her work, Hervieux interviewed 12 men from the battalion and the families of some of the others.

"Some of the men had never spoken of their wartime adventures until I showed up at their doors," she writes in the book’s author note, and "some of their children had no idea that their fathers had been at D-Day."

"Forgotten" was published by HarperCollins and has received rave reviews.

The Washington Post review called it "Compelling … a welcome addition to our understanding of the war and the American military."

Douglas Brinkley, author of "Cronkite," said it is "hard to believe this story hasn’t been written before. Linda Hervieux’s ‘Forgotten’ is essential, fiercely dramatic, and ultimately inspiring. All Americans should read this World War II history, which doubles as a civil rights primer, to learn the true cost of freedom."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

Black heroes in a white army

June 6, 1944, is enshrined in American history as the turning point of World War II.

But nearly all of the books and every movie about D-Day, the first day of the Normandy invasion of France, leave out an essential fact.

The U.S. Army’s 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, whose job was to protect soldiers landing on the beach, was an African-American unit.

This 621-man assault force raised hydrogen-filled barrage balloons as a barrier to strafing enemy aircraft, and their contribution was huge, said Linda Hervieux, the author of "Forgotten: The Untold Stories of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War."

Yet, "Saving Private Ryan," probably the best-known contemporary movie about D-Day, shows not a single black man on Omaha Beach.

Hervieux’s book honors the heroism of the men of 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, following them from their hometowns in Jim Crow America to their specialty Army training camp in Tennessee, where they experienced heartbreaking discrimination; even German prisoners of war were allowed to eat in restaurants where black soldiers were banned.

Alhough 1 million African-Americans served in World War II – fighting for justice and equality denied to them in their own country – none received the Medal of Honor until President Clinton awarded a handful in 1997.

In a phone interview, Hervieux talked about one of the soldiers, Waverly B. Woodson Jr., who was nominated for the Medal of Honor, though he never received it.

Woodson, an Army medic, was wounded twice and then worked 30 hours until he collapsed. He and four other black medics treated hundreds of men.

A premed student in Philadelphia before he joined the Army, Woodson was aware of the discrimination he would face when he signed up, Hervieux said. After the invasion, black newspapers called him "D-Day’s Hero No. 1."

Woodson died in 2005, but his widow is leading a campaign to secure a long-delayed Medal of Honor.

After their experiences in the segregated U.S. Army, the black soldiers’ treatment in Britain was "a revelation" Hervieux said.

"They welcomed African-Americans as heroes, even more so than the white soldiers, who wore out their welcome with sometimes boorish, drunken behavior," she said.

Hervieux is a journalist and Lowell, Mass., native, now based in Paris. She wrote the book after she covered the 65th anniversary of D-Day in 2009, when the French government honored William Dabney, a member of the all-black unit, with the Legion of Honor.

During the interviews, Dabney talked about the barrage balloons and the segregation of the Army into a "Black Army" and a "White Army," and Hervieux began to think about telling the whole story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion.

In the course of her work, Hervieux interviewed 12 men from the battalion and the families of some of the others.

"Some of the men had never spoken of their wartime adventures until I showed up at their doors," she writes in the book’s author note, and "some of their children had no idea that their fathers had been at D-Day."

"Forgotten" was published by HarperCollins and has received rave reviews.

The Washington Post review called it "Compelling … a welcome addition to our understanding of the war and the American military."

Douglas Brinkley, author of "Cronkite," said it is "hard to believe this story hasn’t been written before. Linda Hervieux’s ‘Forgotten’ is essential, fiercely dramatic, and ultimately inspiring. All Americans should read this World War II history, which doubles as a civil rights primer, to learn the true cost of freedom."

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.