FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Aug. 9, 2012) Staff Sgt. Shawn Manson said that, as an African American Soldier, he could stand a little taller, push out his chest a little further, because he knows the history of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Manson served as the noncomissioned officer in charge of the color guard for Fort Leavenworth's dedication of a bust in honor of Brig. Gen. Benjamin Grierson, founder and first commander of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, Aug. 8. The bust was added to the Circle of Firsts next to the Buffalo Soldier Monument along Grant Avenue -- a site that was dedicated 20 years ago in honor of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. The units of mounted cavalrymen were formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866 with all black enlisted Soldiers, some of the first who served in the U.S. military in peacetime.
Manson and his fellow Soldiers from the 40th Military Police Internment and Resettlement Battalion wore replica uniforms similar to those that Buffalo Soldiers wore 150 years ago.
"It makes me even more honored because the African American Soldiers wore this," Manson said. "It's wool, it's hot, but they didn't complain and they soldiered on."
The idea for the monument came from former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell in the mid-1980s when he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth.
However, many people contributed time and money to the monument that now serves as a popular destination site for tourists, a site for re-enlistment ceremonies and a quiet place for Soldiers to relax, said retired Navy Cmdr. Carlton Philpot. He said the monument would not have existed without a community of people that came together to provide private funding for the site.
Busts were added of Gen. Roscoe Robinson, the first African American four-star general, in 1995; 1st Sgt. Walter J. Morris, representing the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion "Triple Nickles," in 2006; and Lt. Henry Flipper, first African American graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 2007. Philpot said there are plans to add more busts of individuals who contributed to the success of African Americans in the U.S. military, including Powell himself. Sculptor Eddie Dixon has created all of the artwork at the monument and Circle of Firsts, including the iconic 10-foot statue of a cavalryman overlooking Smith Lake.
Philpot said he understood there could be some confusion about including a white officer at a memorial honoring African American Soldiers. He said Grierson's inclusion thanks him for helping his Soldiers succeed.
"Heroism has nothing to do with color," Philpot said. "When we die for our country, everybody's blood is red."
Although they were given poorer living conditions and food than other Soldiers, Philpot said, Buffalo Soldiers received more medals and had fewer desertions than their white counterparts serving on the frontier.
Grierson, a former music teacher, was well known for a Civil War expedition through Confederate territory in 1863. He was a colonel when he commanded the Buffalo Soldiers in 1866-1868, an assignment that made him unpopular with other white officers. He was also known for equal treatment of Native Americans.
Text below his bust statue on Fort Leavenworth tells a story of Grierson supporting Flipper at his court martial.
"His veracity and integrity have never been questioned … his character … as an officer and gentleman beyond reproach … I can testify to his … efficiency and gallantry in the field," Grierson said of Flipper on Nov. 1, 1881.
Grierson had 29 years of military service between 1861 and 1890, culminating in his promotion to brigadier general.
Upon dedicating the bust of Grierson, Lt. Gen. David Perkins, commander of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, told the story of how Buffalo Soldiers got their name. There are many theories, Perkins said, but one story is of Pvt. John Randall, who was escorting hunters on the prairie when they were attacked by a band of Cheyenne warriors. Randall fought back in spite of being injured.
"The Cheyenne quickly spread word that there was a new type of Soldier that fought like a cornered buffalo … suffered wound after wound but would not die," Perkins said.
Trooper James G. Madison, president of the Greater Kansas City/Leavenworth Chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association, served in the 10th Cavalry and rode on a pack horse in the 1940s. He will be 90 years old in a few weeks. Madison said he has worked his entire life to build recognition for African American Soldiers.
Of the Buffalo Soldier Monument and Circle of Firsts, Madison said, "It means a great deal to me, because it's what I've always wanted to see -- recognition. And we finally have it."