FORT BENNING, Ga. – David Tresville, from Southern California, heard the song his grandfather wrote for the first time Feb. 22 when the Maneuver Center of Excellence Band’s Brass Quintet played it during the installation’s Black History Month observance.
Wednesday’s event highlighted Black history on Fort Benning with plaque dedications at three buildings – Wigle Hall, the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame, a home in Custer Village where former Secretary of State Colin Powell lived, and lastly, Tresville Hall, named in honor of Chief Warrant Officer Robert Bernard Tresville and 24th Infantry Regiment bandmaster.
Before the plaque unveiling at Building 82, Command Sgt. Maj. Derrick Garner, the MCoE and Fort Benning senior advisor to the commanding general and post command sergeant major, spoke about walking in the shadow of giants and the contributions of African Americans.
In the segregated 24th Infantry Regiment playhouse, Garner spoke about Ruby Bridges and school desegregation in 1960, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, and the overt racism he experienced at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1996 when he was told “because you don’t look like me, I have no obligation to train or take care of you.”
However, then-Col. Lloyd J. Austin, now the first African American to serve as Defense secretary, became Garner’s brigade commander and told him, why not you while reminding him of the importance of effort and perseverance.
“Those words of encouragement were exactly what I needed. … And what drove me to become who I am today,” Garner said as he pulled the two coins Austin had given him out of his pocket – one as a brigade commander and the second when serving as the Army’s vice chief of staff.
“My hope is at the end of the day, he would be proud of the man, Soldier and leader I’ve become.
“Iconic leaders like 1st Sgt. Walter Morris and Gen. Colin Powell have Fort Benning as part of their history and I am standing here today on the shoulders of these giants and many more like them. … To recognize and remember their efforts and sacrifices, Black History Month means so much more than just recognizing, that’s what this day and this month is all about to learn from out past and see what we can be when we choose to see past our differences.”
At the conclusion of Garner’s remarks, those present walked to Building 82, Wigle Hall, to unveil the plaque for the 24th Infantry Regiment (Colored) PX. The 24th Infantry Regiment was organized in 1869 from both freed slaves and veterans of the U.S. Colored Troops. During the early 20th century, the Soldiers of the 24th Infantry Regiment provided 80% of the labor to build Fort Benning, said Buffalo Soldier Darrel Nash, 24th Inf. Regt. Association historian who traveled from Puyallup, Washington, to participate in the ceremony.
The second building to receive a plaque was then-Maj. Colin Powell’s house in Custer Village. Powell retired from the Army after serving as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first African American in this position. He continued breaking barriers when he became the first African American to serve as secretary of State.
The final stop on the tour was Tresville Hall, named in honor of the bandmaster who wrote the 24th Infantry Regiment March, “Semper Paratus.” He was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Army School of Music Bandleader’s Course in Washington, D.C., and served in the Army from 1912 to 1945.
While the Infantrymen with the 24th Inf. Regt. were relegated to construction, janitorial and domestic work, Tresville led the band to exceptional achievements in an era when African American Soldiers struggled to overcome monumental challenges in the Army and society at large.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles Doswell, commander of the MCoE band, said it is because of Tresville and his peers that the U.S. military is at the forefront of equality today and truly embodies all are created equal.
Tresville said his grandfather was a pioneer.
“I am overwhelmed. My family, we’re proud to be here.
“That was the first time I’ve heard that song played. It’s something I will never forget,” Tresville said.