Fletcher’s wound from that incident and others should have earned him a Purple Heart. But as was the case for many other Black Americans in the military, he was denied the honor due to racism.
Last week, 77 years after the fact and at the age of 99, Fletcher finally received the Purple Heart.
“The problem was that the 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.”
At a ceremony on June 18 in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, Army officials and other leaders praised Fletcher for his service and acknowledged that what he endured was an injustice.
Fletcher, sitting in his wheelchair while decked out in military regalia, remarked, “It’s about time.”
The effort was years in the making
Getting Fletcher the recognition was a battle in itself, said Streets.
Fletcher began talking more about his time in the war about 20 years ago, Streets said. But it was a trip to Normandy several years ago that finally made him want 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.”
Fletcher told his family about the prejudice he and other Black soldiers faced at the hands of their White counterparts — and about how he never got a Purple Heart. At the time, though, Streets said she and her family thought there was nothing they could do about it.
Army officials were able to verify their stories based on the testimonies of the two men, historical data and other sources.
When Streets first delivered the news to her father, she asked him how it felt to finally receive the honor he had been fighting for all these years.
“Good,” he answered simply.
It was a typical response from her father, who isn’t typically one to make a big show of emotion, Streets said. But she knows it meant so much more.
“I think it was an amazing weight off of his shoulders to finally be validated, to finally have his story out there,” she added. “The sad thing is that there are so many more who have the same story and were never acknowledged.”