West Point's Buffalo Soldiers host recognition ceremony
September 12, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 12, 2011) -- The 50th wreath-laying ceremony to honor the Buffalo Soldiers was made a little more interesting Sept. 4 with the arrival of several regional members of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers on motorcycles who attended the ceremony at Buffalo Soldier Field. Many of the members have parents, grandparents or other relatives who served as Buffalo Soldiers.
Four former Buffalo Soldiers were also at the event, some attending with their families including retired Sgt. Sanders Matthews Sr., Clarence Dixon Sr., Irvin Press and Clarence Hoggard.
Retired Air Force Col. Roy Spells, a former Tuskegee Airman introduced Matthews as the guest speaker for the event, hosted by the Buffalo Soldiers Association of West Point. Matthews replaced retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore as speaker due to Hurricane Lee, which was threatening the Louisiana coast.
The first Buffalo Soldiers were part of the 10th cavalry regiment, which began in 1866 with Soldiers protecting the American settlers and supporting Westward expansion. More than 200,000 fought in the Civil War. Buffalo Soldiers enlisted for five years and made $13 a month, more than they could earn in civilian life.
"I was a Buffalo Soldier in Germany during World War II," Hoggard said. "I was here last year for the first time, but today, I was made an honorary member of the Buffalo Soldiers Association and they invited me when they found out I was a Buffalo Soldier."
Some, like Matthews from Highland Falls, taught cavalry skills to cadets at West Point in the 1940s.
"Every time I come here, I see myself riding and getting thrown off from the horse," Matthews said. "I had to take the horse to the hospital before I went. We were expendable, but the horse wasn't."
Matthews said he was 17 years old when he enlisted in 1939.
"I never rode a horse before that," he said. "We had a sergeant give us the basics and I got very good at it. I loved what I was doing."
Matthews went on to learn how to break horses and to teach cadets riding skills.
White officers commanded the Buffalo Soldiers until Henry O. Flipper; Class of 1877, became the first African-American commander of the 10th Calvary Regiment. Many white officers refused to command African-American soldiers and accepted a lower rank rather than take command, including Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
The last of the Buffalo Soldiers were disbanded in 1951 and reorganized into other units.