A Black World War II veteran finally received the Purple Heart after nearly eight decades of being denied. Former Army Private Osceola “Ozzie” Fletcher received the high honor last week for his service in the Battle of Normandy in 1944. Fletcher, like many Black soldiers in the US military, was denied awards and recognition for the service due to racism.
According to CNN, Fletcher was in the back of a truck delivering supplies to Allied troops not too long after D-Day when a German missile struck the vehicle. The driver was killed and Fletcher was left with a large head injury, which should have qualified him for a Purple Heart.
“The problem was that 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.”
Purple Heart requirements state that a wound sustained by a soldier had to come from an enemy or friendly fire and must require treatment from medical personnel, and be documented in a soldier’s medical record. Streets told the outlet that Fletcher knew there would be no record of his injury because “it was always just a matter of patching up and sending back” Black soldiers, and her father was never hospitalized.
“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 during the ceremony on June 18.
Fletcher’s daughter said that after he returned from the war he began a career as a teacher and later a police officer. A trip to Normandy several years ago prompted the former Army private to open up about his experience and encouraged him to speak up.
“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.”
With the help of a group of filmmakers who created the documentary Sixth of June, Fletcher’s family got the attention of Army officials who verified the veteran’s account of what happened. Another veteran, Johnnie Jones, also received the Purple Heart after years of being denied.
“These men have the scars and stories that are hard to ignore,” Lt. Col. Scott Johnson, who serves as the Human Resources Command’s chief of awards and decorations, said in a statement.
Fletcher’s daughter said her father feels “good” after receiving the medal.
“I think it was an amazing weight off of his shoulders to finally be validated, to finally have his story out there,” she said. “The sad thing is that there are so many more who have the same story and were never acknowledged.”