The injustices of 1940s Jim Crow America are brought to life in this extraordinary blend of military and social history—a story that pays tribute to the valor of an all-black battalion whose crucial contributions at D-Day have gone unrecognized to this day. In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, a unit of African-American soldiers, landed on the beaches of France. Their orders were to man a curtain of armed balloons meant to deter enemy aircraft. One member of the 320th would be nominated for the Medal of Honor, an award he would never receive. The nation’s highest decoration was not given to black soldiers in World War II.
In telling the story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, Linda Hervieux offers a vivid account of the tension between racial politics and national service in wartime America, and a moving narrative of human bravery and perseverance in the face of injustice.
“Essential, fiercely dramatic ... All Americans should read this.”
"Compelling ... a welcome addition to our understanding of the war and the American military. "
Corporal Waverly B. Woodson Jr., of West Philadelphia landed early on D-Day under heavy fire. He was wounded before his boots touched Omaha Beach yet he began saving lives as soon as he hit the sand. He worked for 30 hours straight before he collapsed. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor. No African Americans were awarded the nation's highest honor in World War II. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen has called on the Army to approve a Medal of Honor recommendation for Woodson. "It is never too late to say thank you," President Obama said in June 2015, when he awarded the Medal of Honor to Henry Johnson, an African-American hero of World War I. Now it is time to honor Waverly Woodson. Please sign this petition to honor a true American hero.
About the 320th
The story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion begins in 1941, when the U.S. Army began training soldiers to fly the newest defensive weapon: balloons. The gasbags formed an aerial barrage — a miles-wide curtain in the sky — designed to protect important installations from attack by enemy planes. The balloons forced enemy pilots to fly higher, fouling the aim of their bombs. A hapless pilot who snagged the cable that attached the balloon to the earth risked losing a wing or becoming ensnared, as if caught in a spider’s web. If that happened, the plane would stall and crash. The balloons that went to war packed an extra punch: small bombs that could blow a hole in the fuselage or ignite the gas tank.
The Army built a balloon training camp in a quiet corner of northwestern Tennessee. Thousands of men passed through Camp Tyson during the war, learning to fly the balloons, whose nicknames ranged from "rubber cows" to "sentinels of the sky.” Among them were only four units of African Americans. The Army, like much of the United States, was segregated by race. The men of the 320th trained as combat soldiers. They were expected to land on a blood-soaked battlefield and fight. And they did exactly that.
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About Linda Hervieux
Linda Hervieux is a journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Beast. A native of Lowell, Massachusetts, she lived for many years in Brooklyn before moving to Paris, France, with her husband. This is her first book.