By Joe Kuhn and Jess Warren
In honor of the first African Americans to serve in the United States Army, nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by the Native Americans they combated, county officials presented four present day African American veterans and Rockland residents with the Buffalo Soldier Award during an annual ceremony at the Ellipse Room at Rockland Community College on Feb 16.
Walter Khan, and Eugene Fields, the 2021 recipients of the prestigious award and Dr. Abigail Taylor and Nathaniel Harvey Jr, the honorees for 2022, were all, welcomed by RCC’s President, Dr. Michael A. Baston, to be formally recognized for their dedication to the United States armed forces.
Like the namesakes of their award, the honorees for 2021 and 2022 had commendable service records. Walter Khan was drafted into the army in 1965 and served as a combat medic and telephone technician in Vietnam before returning to the states to serve his community as a member of the Nyack American Legion Post 310. Eugene Fields served in the National Air Reserve for 8 years and currently volunteers as a member of the Rockland Coalition to end the new Jim Crow.
Dr. Abigail Taylor worked as a Human Resources Clerk in the U.S. Army from 1984-1991 before reenlisting and continuing her service from 1997-2010; Dr. Taylor is the current President of the Buffalo Soldiers of Rockland. She also managed the Yellow Ribbon Program from 2010-2013.
Nathaniel Harvey joined the U.S. Navy in 1988 at the age of 18 and was aboard the USS Iowa on April 19 1989 when a gunnery exercise went terribly wrong and caused an explosion that killed 47 of his shipmates. The experience sparked Harvey’s dedication to helping those affected by PTSD; Harvey has also worked as a mentor for the youth of Spring Valley, participating in the village’s Scared Straight! Program.
“There is no question that the freedoms we enjoy today would not be possible without the men and women who made the brave choices to serve our nation,” said Day as he congratulated the recpients.
“I appreciate the ceremony, it went very well. I also appreciate them putting the statue up at West Point, because that’s the epitome of the dedicated service that these Buffalo Soldiers gave to the United States of America,” said honoree Walter Khan. As a show of his enthusiasm, Khan brought along with him to the ceremony a real savior sword carried by a member of the historic unit.
The Buffalo Soldiers, originally members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army are remembered as the first peacetime all African American regiment in American history. They were preceded by all African American units originally formed to fight for the Union during the later days of the Civil War and counted many Civil War veterans among their ranks. Over the course of the Indian Wars, fought from 1867-1890, three more segregated units, the 9th Cavalry Regiment and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiment, were also formed, and the four units were collectively referred to as Buffalo Soldiers. Those segregated units are remembered for their resilience; the racial persecution rampant during their tenure left those brave men victim to a chain of command that treated them as second class soldiers and an ungrateful citizenry that on multiple occasions attacked the all black units while they were stationed in American territory.
Despite these disadvantages, the Buffalo Soldiers served with distinction; 20 percent of U.S. Cavalry troops that participated in the Indian Wars were Buffalo Soldiers, who participated in at least 177 conflicts. 23 Buffalo soldiers received a Medal of Honor for their service in the Indian Wars, and five more received America’s highest decoration for their service during the Spanish American War. All four regiments participated in the Battle of San Juan Hill, America’s decisive victory in the Spanish American War.
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