A Black World War II veteran has finally received recognition for his service after seven decades.
Osceola "Ozzie" Fletcher, 99, of Brooklyn, N.Y., received a Purple Heart in a ceremony at the Fort Hamilton Army base on Friday (June 18), for wounds he suffered in the Battle of Normandy in 1944. Army officials said that Fletcher was “overlooked” for the medal previously because of racial inequalities. Fletcher said that he was “exhilarated,” when he received the award.
The allied invasion of Normandy, France, also known as D-Day, began on June 6, 1944 and lasted until August. The operation led to the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe, and marked the beginning of the end of the European theater in World War II.
According to The New York Post,Fletcher was a 22-year-old private with the 254th Port Battalion during the military operation. He was working as a crane operator during when he was hit by a German missile that left him with leg injuries and a head gash, causing a permanent scar.
Fletcher recalled the event, saying, “We’re leaving the shoreline. We’re leaving the water. And we’re going into the forest. We had heard about the Germans setting off missiles the size of asteroids. Something, a missile, hit [our] tractor. That was an awful day.”
After he was hit, Fletcher had to wade through the English channel, while his legs were bleeding from the debris left in the water after the battle.
“He has spent his entire life giving to those around him whether they were brothers in arms, families, or his community. Well, today it’s Ozzie’s turn to receive,” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said during the ceremony.
The Army conducted a fact-finding mission regarding Fletcher’s overlooked medal and found that he deserved the award after his daughter, Jacqueline Streets, contacted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to Army News Service.
Streets said, “My father has a gash in his head that we can still see. And we can see he was hurt. And obviously he was doing the job of an American soldier. And I do believe he was overlooked.”
“We’re finally looking at all of our soldiers in the same way, America is trying to shift its thinking about culture and about race and I appreciate that,” Streets continued. “I think we’re acknowledging things that happened in the past and trying to correct them moving forward.”