By Brandon O'Connor
Assistant EditorThey made their name in the west helping America secure a new frontier, but the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers continued through Korea and is forever linked to the history of the U.S. Military Academy.For 40 years, from 1907 to 1947, the Buffalo Soldiers were tasked with training the cadets at West Point in equestrian skills. Their 40-year history at West Point and the Buffalo Soldiers' role in the World Wars and Korea will be honored Sunday during the 57th annual Buffalo Soldier wreath-laying ceremony at Buffalo Soldier Field at West Point."My grandfather and the Buffalo Soldiers who retired, in 1962 when they left, were determined that the legacy of the World War I, World War II and Korean War veterans be told," Aundrea Matthews, president of the Buffalo Soldiers Association, said. "Everything that was being discussed about the Buffalo Soldiers was about the Civil War. No one was making the connection that this all-black regiment still existed. Tuskegee got a lot of the attention, so my grandfather and a lot of his comrades wondered why nobody was talking about the Buffalo Soldiers."Matthews' grandfather, Staff Sgt. Sanders Matthews Sr., joined the Buffalo Soldiers at West Point in 1939 and continued serving at West Point through 1962.He died in 2016 and was the last known living Buffalo Soldier to have served at West Point.
When he first came to West Point, the Army was still segregated causing him and his fellow black Soldiers to endure abuse despite the respect they had earned as the best horsemen in the Army, Staff Sgt. Matthews' widow Cora Matthews said."You are talking about coming up in a very difficult time to be here. Just the abuse they took being a Soldier here and being able to endure that, stay here and continuously train the cadets," Aundrea Matthews said. "To be a Buffalo Soldier at West Point in the '40s speaks of their selfless sacrifice, their personal courage, their fortitude and their ability to overcome adversity and wanting to fight for a country where they didn't even have civil rights."Despite the hardships he and his fellow Soldiers endured during their time at West Point, Cora Matthews said her husband loved West Point and said if they tried to make him move somewhere else he would retire."Everything. That was his life," Cora Matthews said of what being a Buffalo Soldier meant to her husband. "He just loved it. He was an Army man. He loved every bit of it. Everybody else would complain and he would smile about it."The 9th and 10th Cavalry Units of the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at West Point starting with 100 Soldiers on March 23, 1907. Their time at West Point has been memorialized through the naming of Buffalo Soldier Field and the placing of a memorial stone at the intersection Thayer and Mills roads.
The Buffalo Soldier Association is also working to raise funds to construct a monument honoring the Soldiers' contributions to West Point, with the goal to construct it in the next two years, Aundrea Matthews said."They took pride in being able to serve at West Point," Aundrea Matthews said. "They loved what West Point stood for. To be a black Soldier at West Point at that point was a victory despite all the hardships that were going on. To be a black Soldier and be at West Point was redemption. They knew West Point would always be around, so therefore to tell the story of West Point, you would have to tell the story of the Buffalo Soldiers. That way, all the sacrifices they made would not be in vain, because you can't tell the story without talking about Buffalo Soldiers."Sunday's ceremony will start at noon and include the wreath laying as well as a ceremonial firing party and the playing of Taps.