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Black WWII veteran who was denied Purple Heart due to racism finally receives honor at 99

He had been severely wounded afetr a German missile hit the car he was traveling in, while carrying supplies for the troops.

Black WWII veteran who was denied Purple Heart due to racism finally receives honor at 99
Image source: Twitter/@NYPDShea

Former Army Private Osceola "Ozzie" Fletcher has been honored with a purple heart more than seven decades after he fought in the Battle of Normandy in World War II. Fletcher was denied the honor because of racism and has been finally recognized at the age of 99. He had suffered a serious injury during his service, which is often the criteria for the honor but his service wasn't recognized until lately. Fletcher received the honor while sitting in his wheelchair, decked out in military regalia. "It's about time," he said. Fletcher was honored at a ceremony on June 18 in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, reported CNN. Leaders and Army officials who were present at the event acknowledged that Fletcher should have been honored earlier. "Today, we pay long-overdue tribute for the sacrifices he made to our nation and for free people everywhere," said US Army Chief of Staff General James McConville. 


Fletcher suffered serious injuries shortly after D-Day in 1944. He was sitting in the back of a vehicle delivering supplies to Allied troops, who were off the coast of France when they were attacked. A German missile hit them and the driver of the vehicle was killed on the spot. Fletcher had a large gash on his head. He wasn't hospitalized because Black soldiers were often patched up and sent back. This meant that there was no medical record of his wound because he wasn't hospitalized. His wounds from that attack alone should have qualified him for the Purple Heart honor. 



Fletcher's daughter Jacqueline Streets said White soldiers were considered wounded, whereas Black soldiers were treated as injured. "An injury wasn't considered an incidence of Purple Heart," said Streets. Those who have a wound resulting from either an enemy or hostile act or friendly fire are considered for the Purple Heart honor. However, they must have been treated by a medical officer and it needs to be documented in the soldier's medical record. Streets knew her father's wounds wouldn't have been documented because he was never admitted to the hospital for treatment because he was Black. "It was always just a matter of patching up and sending back" Black soldiers.


Fletcher hardly spoke about his service during World War II. Fletcher had returned to the US after the war and worked 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. He broke his silence after a trip to Normandy many years ago. "It really hit him that he wanted to be heard," said Streets. "He wanted the truth to be known. He wanted to be validated and acknowledged."  

6th June 1944: Members of an American armoured unit seen here being lined up for a briefing from their commanding officer prior to receiving their D-Day assignments. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)


The 99-year-old opened up about the prejudice and discrimination Black soldiers like him faced from their White counterparts. Fletcher's family thought there was no way they could get him the honor he deserved but started the process nevertheless. The process was fast-tracked after a group of filmmakers behind the documentary Sixth of June got involved. It was earlier this year, that the US Army announced that Fletcher, along with former warrant officer Johnnie Jones, would receive the Purple Heart honors. The Army verified their stories through the testimonies of the two other men, and historical data among other sources. "These men have the scars and stories that are hard to ignore," said Lieutenant Colonel Scott Johnson, the Army Human Resources Command's chief of awards and decorations. Fletcher's family was overjoyed. "I think it was an amazing weight off of his shoulders to finally be validated, to finally have his story out there," said Streets, before adding, "The sad thing is that there are so many more who have the same story and were never acknowledged."


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