Osceola “Ozzie” Fletcher, a 99-year-old Black World War II veteran, says he was denied a Purple Heart for more than seven decades just because he was Black. The racism and division in the U.S. Army and the country at the time made it impossible for Black veterans to receive the necessary recognition for their heroic acts, unlike their White counterparts, records show.
“The problem was that the Black soldiers were considered injured, and an injury wasn’t considered an incidence of Purple Heart,” Fletcher’s daughter Jacqueline Streets told CNN. “The White soldiers were considered wounded.”
It may have come a little too late but former Army Private Fletcher’s horrific experience at the Battle of Normandy and the two other major injuries he had while in active duty are finally being recognized. Fletcher received his medal on June 18 at the Fort Hamilton Community Club in Brooklyn.
“It’s about time,” said Fletcher, who stood up from his wheelchair wearing his full military regalia displaying four medals on his chest during the long-awaited ceremony.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” played in the club and Fletcher could not help but blurt out “You will remember the Fletcher name now” as he received the medal from U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.
“Ozzy has spent his entire life giving to those around him,” said McConville. “And well, today is Ozzy’s turn to receive, and today we are giving him — no, we are delivering something that he’s been entitled to for over 77 years … Today, we pay long-overdue tribute for the sacrifices he made to our nation and for free people everywhere. Now let’s get you that Purple Heart you’ve been due.”
Fletcher was struck by German gunfire while delivering supplies as the Allied forces arrived in Normandy, off the coast of France on June 6, 1944. The driver of his vehicle was killed and Fletcher returned home with a large gash on his head, ABC7 reports.
Streets and other relatives did not know much about her father’s heroism because he did not talk much about it until 20 years ago when his friends began passing on. The tales, according to her, were like war movies and seemed almost unreal. “It really hit him that he wanted to be heard,” Streets said. “He wanted the truth to be known. He wanted to be validated and acknowledged.”
According to ABC7, usually, for a wound to meet the criteria of the Purple Heart, it must have resulted from either an enemy or hostile act or friendly fire. It must require treatment by a medical officer, and it must be documented in the soldier’s medical record.
Getting the Army to give Fletcher his well-deserved Purple Heart was not easy because almost all his records had been lost years ago in a fire and he was never hospitalized for his wounds, so there were no medical records to prove them either.
At the time, Black soldier’s wounds were not given as much attention as their White counterparts. They were just “patched up and sent back” to the field.
Streets dedicated the last seven years of her life to fighting for her father’s recognition. She succeeded and witnessed the ceremony that happened a day before Juneteenth this year with a dozen of family members.
A documentary, “Sixth of June,” that pieced together the events about the D-Day invasion helped tremendously in authenticating Fletcher’s story. Also, Army officials verified his accounts via the testimonies of two men, historical data, and other relevant sources.
So, in April of this year, the U.S. Army gave an official statement announcing that Fletcher, along with former warrant officer Johnnie Jones, would be decorated with the Purple Hearts. Fletcher’s response to the news after Streets told him about it was, “Good”.
Even after being unfairly and being denied his Purple Heart, Fletcher is simply a man of service. After the war, he went on to work as a high school teacher, as a sergeant for the New York Police Department, and as a community relations specialist in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.