Buffalo Soldiers’ legacy of endurance celebrated at Memorial Day ceremony
Author: Liz Forster, The Gazette - May 29, 2018 - Updated: May 29, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS — Black soldiers in the 10th Cavalry Regiment fought on the frontlines of the Wild West, enduring attacks by renegade Native Americans and ruthless weather through the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
They survived on hard pieces of bread and small slabs of bacon. They earned 23 Medals of Honor and played a key role in the famous battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War.
But their legacy is mostly absent from popular history.
“These guys were on the frontier before civilization and the only law and order representing the United States there,” said Rodd McCorvey. “Their history and their stories aren’t part of history books, though.”
Over the past 15 years, McCorvey and the 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Inc. have used Memorial Day to fill the gap left by conventional history books by marching to the gravestone of one of two Buffalo Soldiers buried in Colorado Springs’ Evergreen Cemetery.
More than 50 people followed in their footsteps Monday, some with a connection to the Buffalo Soldiers, others who knew little of the regiment’s rich history. Group drummer Tracy Quinn said it’s the most people he’s seen at this commemoration in the past couple of years.
“Times are changing, and people are more receptive to understanding that where they are is due to the people who were here,” he said. “They’re doing that today by paying respects to the Buffalo Soldiers.”
That respect extended to McCorvey and other veterans in the 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers too. Andrew Bell, who served in the Vietnam and Korean wars, said returning from Vietnam felt isolating despite the merits of his service.
“Vietnam veterans didn’t come home to ovations. We came back to protests,” he said. “To see the patriotism and respect and honor here today really means a lot.”
The 10th U.S. Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers’ event is accompanied by historic World War I and World War II displays, a presentation by the Sons of the American Revolution and a butterfly release at the cemetery’s chapel. The events highlight the Army’s multifaceted nature throughout history, said Dianne Hartshorn, director of the Evergreen Cemetery Benevolent Society.
“Memorial Day is about remembering those who gave their lives in times of service,” she said. “These people served and gave their lives and are worth remembering.”
Hartshorn’s organization hopes to relay that message year-round with its work to restore and preserve the Evergreen and Fairview cemeteries. Though the city owns both properties, each headstone and grave is property of the family of the deceased. Many of the headstones, some dating to before statehood in 1876, are deteriorating.
So the nonprofit Evergreen Cemetery Benevolent Society raises money and recruits volunteers to tend to gravestones in need. Its work keeps the stories of the deceased alive.
On Memorial Day, Hartshorn sees her work in action.
“I love seeing everyone coming together to celebrate those who served, especially when I see veterans talking with kids about their experiences,” she said.
“It makes Memorial Day more than just a fun three-day weekend in their minds.”