A 99-year-old black World War II vet was finally awarded a Purple Heart in Brooklyn Friday — more than seven decades after he was “overlooked” because of racial inequalities, Army officials said Friday.
At the tear-jerking ceremony, former private Ozzie Fletcher, of Brooklyn, was given the decorative medal for wounds he suffered during the bloody Battle of Normandy in 1944.
“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,” Gen. James McConville said at the Fort Hamilton Army base.
Fletcher, who served with the 254th Port Battalion, was working as a crane operator on D-Day when he was hit by a German missile that left him with leg injuries and a head gash that scarred him permanently.
“We’re leaving the shoreline,” Fletcher recalled. “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,” he said. “That was an awful day.”
The then 22-year-old soldier was forced to trudge through the English Channel covered in blood, McConville said.
“He had to wade through the surf, not even realizing that his legs were cut and bleeding from all of the debris left in the water after the initial battle,” McConville said.
The Army began a fact-finding mission — which included testimony and historical research — about the nonagenarian’s overlooked medal after his daughter, Jacqueline Streets, contacted the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and found he deserved the award, according to Army.mil.
“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,” Streets said Friday. “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.”
“I think we’re acknowledging things that happened in the past and trying to correct them moving forward.”
Asked how it felt to be awarded a Purple Heart, Fletcher said, “I’m exhilarated.”