By Jennifer L. Warren
WEST POINT – “We can and we will. Ready and forward.”
These words were the mantra that symbolized the vision of the Buffalo Soldiers, a brave and patriotic group of African-American soldiers, who relentlessly fought to defend our country against some of the most insurmountable odds. Sunday, those members who were a part of the 9th and 10th United States Cavalry Regiments, who once served at West Point, were honored at a special annual ceremony, saluting their everyday heroic efforts that forever transformed this country.
First created by the Army Reorganization Act of 1866, the Buffalo Soldiers’ early service was on the Western Frontier, engaging in 11 war campaigns. Whether it was in 11 of the campaigns during the Indian (from 1867-1891), Spanish, World War I or II or Korean War, these Buffalo Soldiers-dubbed that nickname by their Indian foes – fought with honor, dignity and loyalty to their country. In 1907, the 9th Cavalry was assigned to West Point.
It was here that cadet riding instruction along with mounted drills took place on the very grounds now occupied by the athletic field. It was granted the namesake “The Cavalry Plain” and was in clear view across from Sunday’s Ceremony, where the dedicated plaque to the Buffalo Soldiers resides and a large crowd came out to once again pay tribute to these devoted unsung heroes.
United States Military Academy Superintendent, Darryl Sullivan, addresses the crowd at Sunday’s Buffalo Soldier Commemoration event, honoring the brave African-American soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, stationed at West Point, and defending this country through many major wars.
African-American soldiers carry a long history defending this country. In fact,185,000 served in the infantry during the Civil War. Regardless of what walk of life they came from – whether it be a sharecropper, writer, painter, or cook – they had a prominent, singular Buffalo Soldier purpose.
“They assembled and served for one reason: to defend the country they loved,” pointed out Corey Angel, Garrison Public Affairs Officer, who also pointed out that the Buffalo Soldiers were some of the first park rangers as well as that many did see actual combat duties, involving over 100 battles.
Also speaking at the Ceremony was Darryl Williams, Superintendent of the USMA. A 1983 graduate of West Point, Williams was quick to cite the profound impact one of the Buffalo Soldiers, Sergeant Sanders H. Matthews, who passed away two years ago, had on his own life.
“He was an inspiration to me, who is greatly missed, but his memory lives on,” said Williams, the 60th Superintendent of USMA. “The Buffalo Soldiers bravery in the face of incredible adversity is something we are forever grateful for; we stand on their shoulders.”
Signs of the Buffalo Soldiers’ indelible footprint can be seem all over today. Whether it’s in songs, emblems or even a movie such as “Glory,” the memories of their valiant acts and unwavering patriotic values set the bar on so many levels. It’s that barometer that Dr. Andrea Mathews, granddaughter of Sergeant Sanders H. Matthews as well as the President of the West Point Buffalo Soldiers Inc. spoke about following the Ceremony.
“These men were the best of the best who got stationed here, and regardless of the hardships they endured from the Army and the world at large, they voluntarily enlisted to join the Army so democracy could rule, not only in America but the world,” affirmed Matthews. “It is so important that everyone understand the sacrifices, training, duty, discipline and courage that they all had, and that they are never forgotten.” Reflecting further, and adding some remarks about the incredible love for West Point and his country that her grandfather possessed as well as his deeply-rooted and revered values, she added, “These men were some of the best men ever to serve in the Army; the skills they had and showed were a big part of the excellence that is here now at West Point, and it’s so important we celebrate that legacy and that it is never forgotten.”
This article originally appeared in the Hudson Valley Press.