WEST POINT – Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer for many. However, for the more than 200 people who gathered near the tree, not too far from the entrance of the United States Military Academy at West Point on Sunday, in means so much more.
Under the tree sits a large boulder, with a plaque, dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers.
For 52 years they have come to pay honor to the brave men of the all black 9th and 10th Cavalry units, better known as the Buffalo Soldiers. According to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the name originated with the Cheyenne warriors. Others believe the Comanche’s gave them their name. Whoever game them the name, it was probably due to their fierce fighting ability.
The annual event had a family reunion type of atmosphere. People who hadn’t seen each other since last year could be heard catching up. Some exchanged e-mails, facebook contact info, and even pictures on cellular phones.
There was also talk of those Buffalo Soldiers who have passed on. Their widows sat in the front row. Next to them were high ranking military officers. That would have been a sight for their husbands who served at a time when black military was used as laborers and service troops in a segregated Army.
Long before the Tuskegee Airmen, they broke through racial barriers. They served in the American Indian, Spanish-American, Philippine-American, Border, World War I and II and the Korean Conflict. As a result, more than 20 Buffalo Soldiers have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Sanders Matthews, an original Buffalo Soldier and president of the Buffalo Soldiers Association, is now 92. He acknowledged that there aren’t many Buffalo Soldiers still alive. Matthews was one of four Buffalo Soldiers in attendance. Clarence Hoggard, Clarance Dixon and Irving Press were also there to mark the occasion.
Matthews, who was a Sergeant in the Army’s 10thCalvary, assigned to teach cadets how to ride, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, assisted in the wreath-laying ceremony, and introduced Colonel (Retired) Kelvin Owens.
Owens, who spoke briefly, said "Learn from the history, so we don’t have a repeat of the past."
That message was taken to heart by one woman brought her grandson to meet a Buffalo Soldier. "I wouldn’t miss this for the world," she said. Her grandson, Marcell, was even able to take a picture with an original Buffalo Soldier. "I did a lot of research before we came," he said, continuing, "I’m just so excited to be here and meet them. It’s so real."