By Deveney Wall, Combined Arms Center Strategic Communications OfficeFebruary 17, 2012
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Feb. 16, 2012) -- February is Black History Month -- a time to let us reflect upon and honor the contributions that African-Americans have made to the nation throughout history. Here at Fort Leavenworth, there are deep roots that cover an important time in the history of the United States.
Blacks served in the military in the Revolutionary War and took a greater role in the Civil War, when they were formed into units in the Union Army. After the Civil War, these forces were used to suppress the threat from Mexican and Indian uprisings, and to maintain and restore order on the frontier. It was at this time the Army established two cavalry and four infantry regiments manned by black Soldiers. The 10th Cavalry Regiment was formed and activated here at Fort Leavenworth.
The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were maintained as Regular Army units. Their efforts were recognized by Congress and former slaves were allowed to serve in the U.S. military. They were an integral part in settling in the West. Some say that states such as Texas and New Mexico would not have survived without the assistance of Buffalo Soldiers because they helped open new roads and provide resources to traveling settlers.
It was during this time period, the Soldiers of these units adopted the name "Buffalo Soldier" and wore it proudly, even putting a buffalo on the 10th Cavalry's unit crest.
There are several theories about where the term "Buffalo Soldier" came from. Some say the black man's hair resembling a mane of the buffalo, while others claim it was because the Soldiers sometimes wore buffalo robes to keep warm. Perhaps what was most important is that the Buffalo Soldiers were warriors who stepped up when called upon despite any and all injustices.
Because of their contributions and connections to the "gateway to the West," they are honored at Fort Leavenworth with the Buffalo Soldier Monument.
Retired Gen. and former Secretary of State Colin Powell is given credit for the idea of the monument. On July 28, 1990, his idea became a reality during the ground breaking ceremony for the monument south of Smith Lake. Nearly two years later, on July 25, 1992, the monument was finished and dedicated to the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments.
Surviving Buffalo Soldiers came to visit with pride, feeling their service to the country did not go unnoticed. To their families, the monument is a symbol of recognition and gratitude to their family members who served.
The park below the monument has since grown to include the "Circle of Firsts," which recognizes first contributions of black Americans in the military. The sculptor of the monument, Eddie Dixon, has so far created three busts honoring the first African-American to graduate from U.S. Military Academy, the first African-American to become a four-star general, and the Army's first all-black parachute unit.
Henry Ossian Flipper was one of five black cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the first to graduate in the class of 1877. He was assigned to the 10th Cavalry and became the first black officer to command regular Army troops.
The first African-American to rise to the rank of four-star general was Roscoe Robinson Jr. Robinson was in the USMA class of 1951 and became a distinguished infantry officer and role model for African-American combat arms officers.
The third bust on the Circle of Firsts honors the first all-black airborne unit in the Army, the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. Though the "Triple Nickles" never served overseas during World War II, the unit distinguished itself in the then-segregated nation as the world's first smoke jumpers, parachuting in to fight forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. The model for the bust was 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, the first black paratrooper.
The monument and walkway in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area is a special piece of history that shows the contributions of African-Americans and should be celebrated along with all the other pieces of history during this month. Fort Leavenworth is proud to be a home to the monument, recognizing the rich history of our country in the evolution of equality.