West Point salutes Buffalo Soldiers
by Jennifer Warren, Hudson Valley Online
The pride could be detected everywhere at Buffalo Soldier Field at West Point Sunday afternoon.
Whether it was seeing someone carefully reading the Buffalo Soldier Plaque, viewing those in attendance exchanging past stories of these soldiers, or listening to the words of United States Military Academy men, there was no doubting the specialness of the occasion at the 47th Annual Buffalo Soldier. The ceremony paid tribute to a group of African-American military personnel from the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments.
Adopting the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers,” after Congress recognized them on September 21, 1866, these men were the first official peacetime all-black regiments in the regular United States Army. At a time when black military was resigned to a very limited role (many used as laborers and service troops), these men (similar to the later Tuskegee Airmen) courageously broke through racial barriers, quietly and unselfishly performing heroic deeds in the Indian, Spanish-American, World War I and II Wars and the Korean Conflict.
Their pivotal roles of not only fighting, but building roads and escorting United States Mail, are indisputable: 13 enlisted men and six officers from the Indian War and another five from the Spanish-American-War were awarded Medals of Honor. Their extreme courage and devotion, both on and off the battlegrounds, was acknowledged at Sunday’s ceremony, as were the injustices they were dealt. Racism was not only shown at times by members of the United States Army, but violence by civilians has also been recorded.
“These soldiers, who served so diligently on these very grounds did not receive the proper honor and respect they were due,” said Colonel Daniel Ragsdale, the Vice Dean of Education at USMA. “Now, this community has come together to bring that deserved dignity, making a wrong right.”
About seventy-five people assisted Ragsdale in rectifying those past injustices. Amongst the crowd, were approximately ten of the original Buffalo Soldiers, who ranged in age from 75-80 years old. Although a small population of “official” Buffalo Soldiers exist, a much larger contingent has surfaced, composed of all black men affiliated with the military today. Proud to be connected to such a rich military past, these men have inherited the “Buffalo Soldier” namesake, paying tribute to the trail blazing of their ancestors. One of those unofficial members in attendance was Peter King, a Newburgh native, who currently resides in Connecticut. King, dressed in headgear displaying “Buffalo Soldier” insignia, made the trek to West Point with a group of fellow members, all aboard motorcycles.
“These occasions are just so important in order to recognize these people who gave so much of themselves,” said King, a member of the Air Force (Pararescue) from 1971-1996. “It’s an integral initiative to recognize a very crucial part of history.”
One of those Buffalo Soldiers was on hand, leading the Ceremony, Sergeant Sanders Matthews.
“Our purpose today is to bring people back, and let others know we are distinguished men who truly loved our country,” said Sanders. “We fought for it and are deserving of the recognition.”