FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (May 21, 2009) -- The Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame inducted two noncommissioned officers during a ceremony at the Lewis and Clark Center May 19.
Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Smith and Sgt. Maj. William McBryar joined the only other NCO in the 95-member Hall of Fame, 1st Sgt. Percival Lowe. Lowe served at Fort Leavenworth from 1849 to 1859.
"Everything that I am today is the result of great noncommissioned officers, like Sergeant Major McBryar and Command Sergeant Major Smith, who took the time to train and mentor me over the years," said Combined Arms Center Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Johndrow.
Johndrow said McBryar's perseverance and unrelenting resolve to succeed are still inspiring today. McBryar's career was distinguished, but frustrating, Johndrow said.
"He entered our Army a century before anyone recognized the term equal opportunity," Johndrow said. "He had to overcome incredible adversity in equality as he struggled to serve his country and become a commissioned officer."
McBryar was an African American who first served in the 10th Cavalry in Arizona. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1890 for his part in the capture of a group of Apaches who had retreated to a cave after a five-day, 200-mile pursuit. Under fire, McBryar maneuvered to a position where he could ricochet his bullets into the cave, forcing surrender. His was the first Medal of Honor awarded to a 10th Cavalry Soldier.
During McBryar's military career spanning almost 20 years, he would enlist, rise in rank and then be mustered out or leave his unit only to join another again as a private.
"Back then, your rank stayed with your unit," retired Judge Lawrence McSwain said.
McSwain is from North Carolina, McBryar's home state. He is an avid historian of the Buffalo Soldiers and said he has done a lot of research on McBryar. McSwain helped unveil the shadowbox during the ceremony on McBryar's behalf.
McBryar eventually earned a commission as a first lieutenant in the 8th Volunteer Infantry only to have his unit muster out. He earned a commission again in the 49th Volunteer Infantry and commanded a company, but was discharged when his unit again mustered out. McBryar eventually re-enlisted in the 9th Cavalry as a private and served at Fort Leavenworth as a corporal from 1905 to 1906.
Medically discharged at the age of 44, McBryar continued to offer his services to the military, but was denied because of his age. McBryar died in 1941 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
"The day an African American puts on the same uniform as everybody else, they know that they have joined the most democratic institution in our nation, where they will rise or fall based on their own merit," Johndrow said. "All of this was made possible by the persistence and sacrifice of Soldiers like Sergeant Major McBryar."
In 1982, Johndrow said, then-1st Sgt. Larry Smith bumped into a tall lanky kid from Montana and told him he wasn't going to make it if he didn't shape up.
"Well today that lanky kid - well not so lanky anymore - gets to sit up here for a few minutes and tell you how my tough first sergeant was able to mentor and shape me," Johndrow said. "You got me going down the right road, you channeled my energy and for that I'm very grateful."
Smith joined the Army in June 1960 and served in every enlisted leadership position in his 34 years in the Army. He served overseas a total of 25 years and served as a first sergeant eight times for a total of 11 years. Smith was a command sergeant major at battalion, brigade, division and community levels. Many of Smith's 25 years overseas were spent in Germany during the Cold War.
"I was in Germany when the wall went up in 1961 and I was there when it came down in 1989," Smith said.
Smith also served in Vietnam with F Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Johndrow said Smith was in an area in Vietnam close to Cambodia known as the Iron Triangle.
From 1991 to 1994 Smith served at Fort Leavenworth as the CAC command sergeant major. Smith said it was the most rewarding assignment of his career.
Smith has continued to serve the Army in leadership positions with the Association of the United States Army, as a member of the Fort Leavenworth Retiree Council, and on the Chief of Staff of the Army's Retiree Council.
"I must say, this induction is not about me," Smith said. "It is about noncommissioned officers."
Smith said NCOs have stepped forward in each period of our history to set the standard. Smith mentioned a few memorable NCOs in the history of the Army like McBryer, Sgt. Alvin York, Sgt. Audie Murphy, Staff Sgt. Hiroshi Miyanura, Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley, Sgt. Maj. of the Army William Bainbridge and Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, who was the first Medal of Honor recipient in Iraq.
Smith said he wanted to offer a challenge to the NCO corps: "To make each year, the Year of the NCO," Smith said.
Smith and McSwain spoke to Fort Leavenworth NCOs the day before the induction during Johndrow's NCO call at the Post Theater.
McSwain spoke about his time in the military as an NCO and his own first sergeant who guided and mentored him. He said he was trying to solve a problem and his first sergeant gave him the tools to work through the problem on his own.
"Ever since then I have used his approach with me to try to solve problems in life." McSwain said.
Smith challenged the NCOs to know their jobs, the Army standards and how to do their next job before they even get it.
"If we communicate the standards to our people, we can keep them out of trouble and out of harm's way," Smith said. "That does not mean that we coddle them or anything else."
The Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame was created in 1969 and is co-sponsored by the Memorial Hall Association, the Henry Leavenworth Chapter of the Association of the United States Army and the command of Fort Leavenworth. The Hall of Fame honors outstanding leaders who, after being stationed at Fort Leavenworth, significantly contributed to the history, heritage and traditions of the Army.
Each Hall of Fame inductee is honored with a shadowbox containing a portrait and inscription detailing the individual's military service. The shadow boxes are in the atrium of the Lewis and Clark Center, home of the Command and General Staff College.