A sacrifice made, a truth discovered

As part of Black History Month, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is proud to share the story of Cpl. Bernard T. Woodland, commemorated at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1921, Woodland grew up in a highly segregated society. Despite his light complexion, his family was considered “colored” due to his African-American ancestry and deprived of many rights and privileges held by white people. Although by several accounts he was a brilliant young man, Woodland was not allowed to attend university. He went to a local Black college with the goal of becoming a teacher.

In the U.S. armed forces, strict racial laws also applied and African-American servicemembers were most often assigned to non-combat units. When drafted in 1942, Woodland did not want his ethnicity to determine his fate and, by forging his registration forms, he was able to join the predominantly white 82nd Airborne Division and trained as paratrooper.

Woodland’s brother, Donald, was drafted six months after him and used the same trick to join as “white.” He was devastated when he learned that his brother died of wounds Sept. 24, 1944, during Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands while crossing the Waal River with a crucial objective for the campaign on the north end of the Nijmegen Bridge.

When he came back home after the war, Donald decided to start a new life far away from Baltimore and never told anyone of his childhood in a poor Black neighborhood. He would have taken his secret to his grave if his son had not made a discovery right after his death in 1994. In a safety deposit box that his dad had kept hidden his entire life, he found photos of his dad’s childhood and letters sent by his brother during the war and discovered, to his astonishment, his African-American roots.

Woodland’s deeds during World War II were never forgotten. He forever rests at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, plot H, row 2 and grave 63. Burials within all ABMC cemeteries are arranged without regard to rank, race, gender or creed.

Headstone of Cpl. Bernard T. Woodland at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. Credits: American Battle Monuments Commission.

ABMC’s mission is to honor the service of the U.S. armed forces by creating and maintaining memorial sites, commemorating their service and sacrifice, and facilitating the education of their legacy to future generations. ABMC was founded in 1923 following World War I, and its 26 cemeteries and 31 monuments honor the service men and women who fought and perished during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, as well as some who fought during the Mexican-American War.



Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery’s team

Historical Services

All American Engineers Honor Valor, Sacrifice of WWII Waal River Crossing | Article | The United States Army

Cpl. Bernard T. Woodland (

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