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WWII vet given Purple Heart 77 years after being wounded; story overlooked due to 'racial inequities'

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Posted at 3:28 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-27 21:44:58-04

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A 99-year-old veteran of World War II finally received a Purple Heart medal about 77 years after being wounded in the Battle of Normandy. The Army says the Black man’s race played a part in the long wait.

In 1944, former Army Private Osceola “Ozzie” Fletcher was delivering supplies to the Allied forces on the coast of France when the vehicle he was in was struck by a German missile, CNN and The Washington Post report. The driver of the vehicle was reportedly killed in the attack, while Fletcher was left with a large gash on his head.

Because of “racial inequities,” the U.S. Army says Fletcher’s war story was overlooked for decades, despite rightfully earning a Purple Heart in the battle.

According to the Army, about 2,000 African American troops took part in the Battle of Normandy in various capacities, including Fletcher.

But although Black soldiers faced the same dangers as others, they often dealt with racial segregation both in service and when they returned home, according to Lt. Col. Scott Johnson, the Army Human Resources Command’s chief of awards and decorations.

The Army says Fletcher’s daughter, Jacqueline Streets, contacted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding her father’s medal. Afterward, officials say they were able to verify Fletcher’s story based on testimonies, historical data, and other resources.

In April, the Army announced that Fletcher’s medal had been approved.

The Army says Fletcher and another African American man, Johnnie Jones, were “ecstatic” when they learned they would be honored.

“They were thankful that the Army put the time in to make these corrections,” Johnson said.

And on June 18, Fletcher finally was awarded his Purple Heart medal.

The commissioner of the New York City Police Department, where Fletcher once served as a sergeant, was among those who attended the ceremony.