Osceola “Ozzie” Fletcher
Educator and Co-founder, Guardians Association
On Veterans Day, the only tour of duty World War II combat vet Army Private Osceola Fletcher, 98, prefers talking about is the military. But throughout life “Ozzie” has made history or held a position at the crossroads of history-making events or played a role in teaching it. He believes, as reported, in a 2018 NY Daily News story, “the war changed not only the course of the world but the lives of the African-Americans fighting for the racially-divided U.S.A.” He has spent a lifetime increasing awareness of that fact in three careers.
The Manhattan-born, Crown Heights, Brooklyn resident, served as a sergeant for the NYPD for 26 years; a teacher for 14 years at Boys & Girls H.S.; and the Brooklyn DA’s office for 24 years as a community relations specialist in the Crime Prevention Division. He also is the only one still alive of the five law enforcement officers who founded the Guardians Association during the 1940’s.
He shares his experiences with anyone who is interested in listening, but particularly with young people who he feels should know this history. He informed us how the “slave battalion” work of loading and unloading ships, among other laborious jobs was considered the work of the Negroes. It was work he did. But he also was a crane operator: getting machinery to the front and delivering “Food to the guys up front.”
Though wounded three times during his years in the service, Fletcher says racism stopped him from collecting a Purple Heart. “Whites were wounded,” he says. “Negroes were injured. So, as an injured soldier, you were not entitled to a Purple Heart.” Ozzie should have received a Purple Heart when a vehicle he rode in was struck by a German missile and overturned, killing the driver, and injuring him. But it didn’t happen. “Black soldiers didn’t get the Purple Heart. They got injured, damaged, hurt. But they never got wounded. Only the white men who were wounded (hurt) got Purple Hearts.” Now, there’s talk after more than six decades to make it happen for him.
But Ozzie told OTP, he has always withstood tests, whether it is surviving 10 years as a ward of the state in several foster homes, as a major in machinery at a Jamaica, Queens H.S., taking the exam that admitted him to City College or learning the nomenclature of boats. I did Normandie and D-Day. “I’ve been taking tests all my life. That’s what I do.”
And he has passed every one.
Anna M. Baker
Nearly 40,000 American military women deployed for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990, and Anna M. Baker of Bedford-Stuyvesant was among them.
It is generally thought that the experiences and skills that all service personnel gain from the time in military service is more than they brought with them. In the case of SPC 4 Baker, it was just the opposite.
She entered the service with a strong intact background and mental stability. Her background included a close-knit family of dedicated public servants, her own proven success in an education career backed by a degree in Speech Pathology from North Carolina AT&T, and the character and fortitude developed in a community that calls for it and that she could use to weather storms and shoulder offensives in some of the world’s toughest areas to be in for anyone.
As we come into new understandings of the vital roles women can play in all arenas, Anna M. Baker was on the battlefields, and sometimes, in the foxholes of some of the world’s most
embattled countries, including Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia. and other areas, some 30 years ago.
Ms. Baker saw combat, learned sophisticated ground operations, saw, in action, stealth bombers, Cruise missiles, “smart” bombs, infrared night-bombing, and faced all the pressures with a laser focus. “I was everywhere. I was engaged in combat, but the hardest thing was guard duty,” she told us. It called for SPC 4 Baker to stay in a foxhole overnight, and, of course, stay awake.
The Boys & Girls High School graduate entered the service to pay off student loans. She served in the Reserves for 8 years, which included the November 1990 to May 1991 stint in the Gulf. She recorded her experiences in a journal, and videotaped some of them, as well. She plans to share them with the community in the future. After her discharge, she was a reading teacher for 1st and 2nd graders at P.S. 305 for 25 years. Prior to entering the Reserves, she taught 3rd grade at a school in Brooklyn, one reason her nickname in the service was “Schoolteacher.”
Founder, Celebration Benefit for Children
George Johnson is the tough-skin take-charge organizer who grew up on Lexington Avenue and Greene Avenue, a product of the generation that never lost respect for children and elders. The Boys High School grad retained compassion for families and children-in-need to become the ultimate volunteer, especially around Christmas/Kwanzaa holidays, with his now famously infamous holiday gift-giving campaign, currently in its 34th year at Sugar Hill Restaurantt. Until COVID shut down mobility last Spring, he was chief networker and Music Coordinator for the late Sam Pinn’s Jazz 966. In other community work, he martialed his community activism skills for Job Mashariki, founder of the Black Vets for Social Justice (BVSJ), as an essential BVSJ Board member for three decades. This month, he officially retires, with the promise of keeping within spiritual distance boundaries. But there’s another side to Johnson. While the community is, and always will be, the beneficiary of his skills, the nation is too: Johnson was an Airman 3rd class in the Air Force during the 1960’s Vietnam War era. Yesterday, he generously shared his personal experiences “when people from all over the country who had never been exposed to other races,” came together for basic training. Johnson, also a community activist who grew up next door to Mashariki and educator Jitu Weusi, recalled how even a bayonet could not cut through some soldiers’ ingrained racist attitudes. However, in his comparison — to Our Time Press — of the state of the military 40 years ago versus today, Mr. Johnson’s revelations were hard and unsettling. “A lot of servicemen today want to speak up but are fearful there will be retaliation. Racism has not gone away, but this much politics has never existed before.”