With the buildings that were once their stables and the field where their horses once galloped during training as a backdrop, the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers at the U.S. Military Academy was honored Sunday.
The last Buffalo Soldier to have served at West Point died two years ago, but with his widow and granddaughter in attendance the lasting impact of Staff Sgt. Sanders Matthews Sr. and his fellow Buffalo Soldiers was honored with a ceremonial wreath laying near Buffalo Soldier Field.
Sunday's ceremony was the 57th annual Buffalo Soldier Memorial Ceremony held at West Point in honor of the 9th and 10th Cavalries, which served at West Point from 1907-48 and trained cadets in horsemanship.
"These men we are here in recognition of today taught horsemanship to men like George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley," Archie Elam, a member of the board of directors of the West Point Association of Graduates, said. "Their spirit and their character lives and breathes here."
The all-black Buffalo Soldiers earned their name and standing as the best horsemen in the Army during the Civil War and period of westward expansion, even as African-Americans were largely excluded from serving in the Army.
Their reputation earned them the role of training cadets at West Point, a duty they performed until the Army was integrated.
Even after integration, the Buffalo Soldiers, including Matthews, served at West Point into the 1960s training and preparing future leaders in the Army.
"I am honored to be with you today as we celebrate the incredible legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers," Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, the 60th Superintendent of West Point, said. "When duty called, the Buffalo Soldiers stood in the gap ready to fight, ready to defend this great nation no matter the task, no matter the odds. Their response was simple--we can and we will. And they did. Always at the ready, always pushing forward and always accomplishing the mission."
Local leaders, cadets, JROTC cadets from an Albany high school and members of the Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Club joined descendants of the Buffalo Soldiers Sunday as they honored the Soldiers who served at West Point.
"It is amazing," Buffalo Soldier Association of West Point president Aundrea Matthews said of the turnout. "It shows that the Buffalo Soldiers' legacy is still alive in the hearts, minds and souls of the American public. I think it shows the love and respect that the United States Military Academy has for this all-black regiment of Buffalo Soldiers that was stationed here at West Point."
The annual memorial service was started by Sanders Matthews Sr. and his fellow Buffalo Soldiers to keep alive their legacy at West Point and honor their six decades of service to the academy.
The field where they once trained cadets has been renamed Buffalo Soldier Field and a memorial rock, where the wreath was laid, was placed in their honor in 1973.
"Their bravery, their commitment to service and their love of country even in the face of overwhelming adversity echoed through the ages, speaking to us and inspiring us who serve today," Williams said. "We stand on their shoulders and we are forever grateful for their service and sacrifice."
To continue honoring the legacy of the 9th and 10th Cavalries and their time at West Point, the Buffalo Soldier Association of West Point is currently working to erect a statue commemorating their time at the school.
Aundrea Matthews, Sanders Matthews Sr.'s granddaughter, said they hope to have the monument in place within the next two years.
The effort to construct the monument is being led by retired Maj. Gen. Fred Gorden, who served as the 61st commandant at West Point.
"What we would like to do is transfer the rock, because I just had someone a few minutes ago say they agree that this rock is insufficient and not a fitting representation of the Buffalo Soldiers," Gorden said. "We need a statue. That is what we are trying to do."