A Salute to the
Members of All-Black Cavalry Regiment Receive Overdue Recognition
By Linda Wheeler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 1997; Page B01
The Washington Post
Raymond Bradshaw, of Northeast Washington, stared at the 1942 photograph
of an all-black cavalry regiment lined up on the stairs of a Fort Myer
barracks. He was looking for one particular soldier.
"That's me. There I am," he said, grinning. "That's the real Raymond
Bradshaw. That's the Buffalo Soldier Raymond Bradshaw."
For Bradshaw, 79, and other veterans of the regiment, which served in
World Wars I and II, a recognition ceremony yesterday at Arlington
National Cemetery and Fort Myer was most welcome.
"Nobody ever seemed to know about the 9th and 10th Cavalry," Bradshaw
said, describing two units that were stationed at Fort Myer. "I'm glad
somebody knows me now. I hate that it came so late that now I am old and
crippled, but that's okay."
Deactivated after World War II, the cavalry regiment seemed lost to
history until recently. Its recognition comes at a time when other black
soldiers also are receiving long-overdue attention. In the Shaw
neighborhood of Washington, a $2 million memorial is under construction
to honor the black Union soldiers of the Civil War.
The Buffalo Soldier name originated with the legendary black soldiers,
some of them Civil War veterans, who fought in the Indian wars on the
western frontier. Historians say American Indians gave that name to the
troops because of their curly hair and as a sign of respect.
The 9th Cavalry was honored yesterday. It originally was stationed in
Fort Robinson, Neb., but was assigned to Fort Myer in 1891 as a reward
for heroism in the war against the Apaches. Known for their fine
horsemanship, the unit's soldiers participated in presidential parades
before returning to Nebraska in 1894.
Yesterday, a red-, white- and blue-ribboned wreath was placed at the
grave of Thomas Shaw, a Buffalo Soldier who was awarded the Medal of
The 10th Calvary, Bradshaw's unit, gained fame as part of Gen. John
Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing's 1916 expedition into Mexico. In 1931,
part of the unit was posted at Fort Myer, where members performed in
parades and horse shows, escorted prisoners and tended President
Franklin D. Roosevelt's horses.
Two members of the 10th Cavalry showed up yesterday wearing the same
khaki uniforms and brown leather riding boots they had worn on active
duty. Frederick Ambush, 76, of Northeast Washington, joked with J.W.
Rice Sr., 76, of Philadelphia, about the shine on his boots.
"You know these come in dull brown," he said. "You have to really polish
Ambush said the ceremony at Fort Myer was important to him. "It's a
matter of the heart," he said, touching his chest. "There are not a lot
of us left."
During the ceremony, 103-year-old Mark Matthews helped unveil a plaque
dedicating his old barracks in the name of the Buffalo Soldiers. He
stood tall, leaning lightly on a cane and smiling broadly.
Matthews, according to information provided by Fort Myer, was born Aug.
7, 1894, in Greenville, Ala. He enlisted with the Buffalo Soldiers at
age 16, serving in Arizona and Texas. In 1931, he was assigned to Fort
Myer, where he trained new recruits in horsemanship until his retirement
"I did it all," Matthews said, describing his military service in a
brief interview. "Yes, I was there."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company
U.S. News 5-6-96 The last of the Buffalo Soldiers
"When them Chinese mortars begins to thud, the Old Deuce-Four begin to bug."
--FROM "THE BUGOUT BOOGIE," A DERISIVE SONG ABOUT THE 24TH INFANTRY REGIMENT IN THE KOREAN WAR
For almost a century, the U.S. Army's 24th Regiment, established by Congress shortly after the Civil War in honor of the sacrifices of nearly a quarter of a million blacks who fought for the Union, was a segregated but integral part of the Army. The Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th fought Indians and outlaws on the Texas frontier in the 1870s and 1880s, covered themselves with glory on San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, served honorably in the Philippines insurrection and marched with Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his revolutionaries.
But in the panicky first days of the Korean War, when U.S. and South Korean forces were driven back to the Pusan Perimeter, entire platoons and companies of the 24th evaporated from their foxholes and had to be rounded up at regimental or division headquarters. The Army's official history of the Korean War, published in 1961, describes the 24th's soldiers as often "frightened and demoralized" and says they had a tendency to panic and needed two officers per platoon where other units needed only one: "One must command and the other must drive." Conventional wisdom said black soldiers were lazy, afraid of the dark, couldn't take care of their weapons, wouldn't dig foxholes, didn't trust each other and thus would not stand and fight. The 24th Regiment finally was disbanded on Oct. 1, 1951. The 8th Army high command and the Pentagon had come to agree with the commander of the 25th Division, Maj. Gen. William B. Kean, who said that in just 90 days in Korea the 24th had proved it was unreliable in combat and a hindrance to the division.
Now, after 45 years, the Army is trying to set the record straight, to highlight the racism that dogged the 24th and to document the unit's successes and failures in the peacetime occupation of Japan and on the battlefields of Korea. Army historians have vacuumed official records and the memories of some 300 soldiers and commanders. The result is a 276-page book, Black Soldier, White Army: The 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea, by William T. Bowers, William M. Hammond and George L. MacGarrigle, to be published this summer under the imprimatur of the Army's Center for Military History.
"No changes." The first question, of course, is why all-black units like the 24th Regiment still existed in 1951--three years after President Truman issued an executive order ending discrimination in the military. Lt. Gen. Julius Becton (Ret.), a veteran of combat in both Korea and Vietnam, provides one answer. He recalls doing summer training as a young black reserve lieutenant at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in 1948. "The post commander assembled all officers in the theater and he read Executive Order 9981 [Truman's anti-discrimination order], and then he said: `Now, gentlemen, as long as I am in command, there will be no changes. There'll be Officers Club No. 1 and Officers Club No. 2; NCO Club No. 1 and No. 2; swimming pool No. 1 and No. 2.' That was stated by a colonel carrying out the orders, as he interpreted them, of the president of the United States. Now what does that do to the blacks sitting in that audience?"
Doubts about the reliability of black troops were not new. The 24th was not sent into the trenches in World War I, and the regiment's role in the Pacific theater in World War II was limited to policing up pockets of holdout Japanese troops after the main fighting was over. After World War II, the 24th was sent to Japan, garrisoned at Camp Gifu and assigned to guard the docks at Kobe. There the seeds of doubt that would sprout on Korean battlefields were sown. "They were great on parade; they won all the baseball championships, all the basketball championships," says General Becton. "They screwed anything they could find away from home. They were dealing narcotics. That's a failure of leadership. The 24th had people who should not have been leaders--cowards really."
In the words of Black Soldier: "In companies commanded by white officers who treated their men with respect but refused to accept low standards of discipline and performance, racial prejudice tended to be insignificant. In other companies, often commanded by officers who failed to enforce high standards because they wished to avoid charges of racial prejudice or because they were simply poor leaders, mutual respect and reliance were weak. . . . Hostility and frustration lingered, to break forth only when those units faced combat and their soldiers realized their lives depended on officers they did not trust."
Misadventures. In late June 1950, when Kim Il Sung's People's Army stormed across the border into South Korea and U.S. commanders were desperate for reinforcements, 8th Army Headquarters agonized over whether to send the 24th. When units of the 24th took the town of Yech'on back from the North Koreans on July 20, 1950, the victory was cheered back home. But before the taste of even so small a victory could be savored, the 24th stumbled into a series of misadventures that shattered the faith of the troops in their officers, and vice versa. The authors write, "There was no single reason for what happened. An aggressive enemy, inadequate equipment, inexperience at all levels, leadership failures high and low, casualties among key personnel and a lack of bonding and cohesion . . . all played their part.
". . . When disturbing trends emerged, no one took action. Although straggling increased to sometimes epidemic proportions, the leadership of the regiment did little more to stop it than to return offenders to their units. Every occurrence made the next one easier. In an attempt to lead by example, commissioned and noncommissioned officers stayed at their posts with those of their men who were willing to hold and suffered inordinately high casualties as a result. As they did, suspicions took root among them and rumors began to rise about how black soldiers would sometimes abandon wounded white officers."
The regiment's three battalions went through 13 commanders in the first 90 days of Korean combat. Replacements to command companies and lead platoons were often inexperienced and untrained, according to the new history, and enlisted replacements were swept up from all over the Army, including the stockades, many arriving unable to load and fire their rifles. When the 24th pulled back into the Pusan perimeter it was placed in poor defensive positions. And on Sept. 1, 1950, when the enemy attacked, the 24th's 2nd Battalion collapsed. The white leadership blamed the soldiers, "but they themselves were at least as much at fault," says Black Soldier. "The new regimental commander, Col. Arthur J. Champeny, and his staff had not only approved the weak tactical dispositions of the 2nd Battalion, Champeny himself had done much to destroy whatever trust was left in the regiment with ill-advised public remarks about the conduct of blacks in World War II."
Not until early September 1950, after two other regimental commanders of the 24th either excused themselves or were relieved, did the 24th finally get the commander it so desperately needed: Lt. Col. John T. Corley, a tough World War II combat veteran who had earned two Distinguished Service Crosses and eight Silver Stars. Corley ordered punishment of chronic stragglers and instituted much needed reforms.
Rush to disband. Units of the 24th fought well as United Nations forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter and counterattacked into North Korea. Two battalions collapsed in the face of the massive Chinese invasion that began the night of Nov. 25, 1950, but the new study finds that was partly because neither battalion got orders to pull back. By March 1951, the 24th was back in action, performing credibly in combat in the Han River crossing. Under its last commander, Col. Thomas D. Gillis, who took over in August 1951 and relieved a number of officers, the 24th showed signs of flourishing, but its achievements were lost in the rush to disband a star-crossed outfit.
The authors of Black Soldier, White Army conclude: "All told, it seems clear that if the unit failed at times, the race of its people was not the reason." Instead, they found, racial stereotypes kept the best black officers from rising to positions of responsibility, and too few talented white officers were assigned to the regiment. As the unit's leaders failed, the new history says, "the self-confidence and motivation of the common soldier declined and he began to lose any sense that he was part of something worthwhile, larger than himself. In the end every man stood alone, unsure not only of his own abilities but also of those of the soldier next to him. Many fought well but others fled. In that light, the regiment's achievements . . . bear a special mark. They underscore the courage, the resilience and determination of those among the unit's members who chose to do their duty, to fight in the face of adversity and to prevail."
Two 24th Infantry soldiers, Pfc. William Thompson and Sgt. Cornelius H. Charlton, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism. They were the first black soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor since the Spanish-American War.
BY JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
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Hello, my name is Raleigh Bowers Jr. I am 45 years old and live in pennsylvania. I was visiting my uncle Lyndsey Bowers, who recently retired from the service at Ft, Belvoir Virginia. I know my uncle had served in the military for a long time but I wasn't aware of his many accomplishments.
While I was there at his house my wife and I were going through some of his scrap books and we came across awards from the white house naming him as a Buffalo Soldier. After further talks with my uncle he informed me that he is the youngest living member of the Buffalo Soldiers. I was very surprised and very proud. After talking with many members of my family I found out that many of them did not know this about our relative. I am on the committee of our family reunion this year which is held on the last saturday in July. We have decided to honor our relative this year at our reunion for his accomplishments and for being a member of the Bufffalo Soldiers. I would appreciate any suggestions, ideas, or help you could give me to aid in honoring a Buffalo Soldier. Thank you very much. You can reach me at RBowers@wcu.edu
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