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The Buffalo Soldier statue "Answering the Call" was dedicated Sept. 21, in downtown Lawton, Okla., on the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Plaza at 2nd Street and Gore Boulevard. The 9-foot, 800-pound bronze piece was created by Lawton sculptor Dr. Gary Gardner.

LAWTON, Okla.--Lawton and Army officials unveiled a Buffalo Soldier statue Sept. 21, which paid tribute to black Soldiers who served in the frontier Army in its westward exploration in the late 1800s.

The 9-foot, 800-pound bronze statue "Answering the Call" depicts a Buffalo Soldier with rifle in hand, ready to saddle up for a mission. It stands in the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Plaza at 2nd Street and Gore Boulevard in downtown Lawton.

"This is a great celebration," said Arthur Harness, 89, a Buffalo Soldier who served with the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kan., from 1940-43. "I never thought when I was riding those old bucking horses that we'd have a day like this."

Harness, of Plano, Texas, and Roosevelt Coleman, of Lawton, were two former Buffalo Soldiers at the dedication.

Brig. Gen. Jesse Cross, U.S. Army Quartermaster School commandant at Fort Lee, Va., was the keynote speaker.

"I certainly wouldn't be here today wearing this uniform and this rank if it were not for the Buffalo Soldiers who blazed the trail," said Cross, who grew up near the site of the statue. "The Buffalo Soldiers answered the call to service with a nation at war and in doing so, left an inspiring legacy for all generations to emulate."

The idea of a Buffalo Soldier monument began about five years ago, said Dr. Gary Gardner, the sculptor. Officials with the Lawton-Fort Sill Buffalo Soldiers Association 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry, city and state officials, Fort Sill, local businesses, and private individuals and families all worked together to create the plaza.

The story of the Buffalo Soldier is about extreme courage and patriotism, said Cross.

"Since 1641, there has never been a time in this country when blacks were unwilling to serve and sacrifice for America," said Cross, quoting retired Gen. Colin Powell former secretary of state, from 1990.

Buffalo Soldiers comprised of former slaves, freemen and black Civil War Soldiers were the first to serve in peacetime after the war, Cross said.

The survival of the Buffalo Soldier had a great deal to do with the kind of people they were.

"A people who were rich in character, courage, discipline and integrity," he said.

Despite experiencing arduous duty and prejudice, the Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion and courts-martial rates of any unit in the Army, Cross said.

The Buffalo Soldiers' success led to other firsts for black servicemembers, Cross said. This included Powell, former chairman, joint chiefs of staff; the Tuskegee Airmen; the 761st "Black Panthers", the first black tank battalion; the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the first black parachute unit; and the Navy Golden 13, black Naval officers.

Lawton businessman Dan Mullins was recognized for being instrumental in creating the Buffalo Soldiers Heritage Plaza.

"There are so many people to thank in our community for this day," Mullins said. Among those he thanked was his co-op partner the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade; and retired Col. Albert Johnson Jr., who served as an adviser to the project.

"As we come together today as we honor the heritage, the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, we all have ownership in this plaza that sits in a prominent part of our town because we all helped and for that I humbly thank you," Mullins said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16