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Archive for Saturday, July 29, 2000

Buffalo Soldier reunion stirs participants’ pride, memories

July 29, 2000

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— The ties that bind these soldiers are not merely the color of skin or regimental colors.

It is a storied history of struggles against racism, bigotry and a passion to serve their country like any red-blooded American.

It was admiration from the Cheyenne in 1867 during the Indian Wars that earned the 10th Cavalry its moniker. The Cheyenne were impressed with the soldiers buffalo-like fighting ability and with the superficial resemblance their curly black hair and frontier garb gave them to the buffalo.

For Turl Covington Jr., it was a lifelong ambition to become a Buffalo Soldier. It's an honor that he relished Thursday during a ceremony at Fort Leavenworth.

"We were soldiers who protected our country," he said. "I'm proud to be a Buffalo Soldier."

Covington, 84, of Junction City, was one of about 300, including 150 Buffalo Soldiers, who took part in ceremonies commemorating the 10th Cavalry's symbolic return to the Kansas post.

The 10th Cavalry was formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866, one of the first all-black regiments created following the Civil War. A year later, it moved to Fort Riley. Another all-black regiment, the 9th Cavalry, was formed in Louisiana in 1866.

Thursday's ceremony, complete with a mounted color guard of Buffalo Soldiers and re-enactors, concluded a three-day horseback ride from Fort Riley to Fort Leavenworth. All activities were part of the weeklong reunion of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Assn. in Kansas City.

"You represent the patriotic and dedicated spirit of the troopers who gave so much to their country," said Brig. Gen. David Huntoon, deputy commandant of the Command and General Staff College, standing near the post's Buffalo Soldier Monument.

"Their work was hard, dusty and dangerous ... but they soldiered on."

Covington graduated from high school in 1933 and became a Buffalo Soldier in 1940.

The former sergeant was a clerk during World War II and learned that "soldiering on" meant being treated worse than German prisoners of war at a Louisiana restaurant. And how the Army relegated black soldiers to the rear guard when they arrived in Africa.

"They made us truck drivers, cooks, things we considered demeaning," he recalled. "They didn't want us in combat."

Covington's experiences were all too common in the history of the Buffalo Soldiers. The original 10th Cavalry lived in swampy conditions a mile from the permanent barracks, fighting mosquitoes that carried disease. Fort Leavenworth's commanding officer ordered the men to keep their distance from the other units.

The unit was moved to Fort Riley by Col. Benjamin Grierson, the regiment's white commander who held out hope for better conditions.

But despite years of discrimination, the Buffalo Soldiers built a legacy of service to their country that earned them the appreciation of friend and foe on the Western frontier.

It was admiration from the Cheyenne in 1867 during the Indian Wars that earned the men their moniker. The Cheyenne were impressed with their buffalo-like fighting ability and with the superficial resemblance their curly black hair and frontier garb gave them to the buffalo.

The regiment took the name as an honor, one that was carried by other black units into battle up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War and onto foreign shores in World War II.

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