Former Army Private Osceola “Ozzie” Fletcher received a Purple Heart last week at age 99 after more than eight decades of unrecognized service in the Battle of Normandy.
Fletcher was wounded in a German attack shortly after D-Day in 1944 while delivering supplies to Allied troops who were off the coast of France. The driver was killed, and Fletcher was left with a large gash on his head – a wound that would have typically earned him a Purple Heart for his service. But as was the case for many other Black Americans in the military at that time, he was denied the honor due to race inequalities.
“There were probably many others like myself who did not get honored, and I just lasted longer,” Fletcher told “The Story” host Martha MacCallum on Thursday.
“However, the guys of other complexions did get medals. They showed it in their neighborhoods and I found out about it in other ways….and the soldiers who got Purple Hearts are those people that weren’t there in the very, very beginning and it seems that maybe many officers got Purple Hearts because they were White. But I don’t know about any other unwhite soldiers, you might say, getting honored in any way [at that time.]”
After Fletcher’s granddaughter reached out on his behalf, the 99-year-old veteran received the honor in a ceremony on June 18 in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. Army officials and other leaders praised Fletcher for his service, acknowledging that he was a victim of racial injustice.
“Today, we pay long overdue tribute for the sacrifices he made to our nation and for free people everywhere,” US Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said at the June 18 event, according to the New York Daily News.
“I was an expert, emptied all of the bottom of the vessels that were bringing in materials. We had to stay there to make sure on the coast that everything needed by those guys going by and going into the roads and the forests and whatever place that they had to chase the Nazis,” Fletcher recalled.
“After fighting and after working, which is what mainly we were doing,” Fletcher said, “it’s about time.”
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