When we celebrate National Buffalo Soldiers Day on July 28, we can imagine them proudly riding by. They were brave in the face of battle and loyal to a country that enslaved them only years before it accepted them into the military. They were soldiers, but they were much more.
These remarkable men represented a chance for the country to rebuild forces decimated by the Civil War. In 1866, the United States Congress authorized six segregated African American Army regiments. That move filled the military manpower gap.
The soldiers would surely be proud to know that they were honored with a special date on our calendars. President George H. W. Bush made it official on July 28, 1992. His proclamation of Buffalo Soldiers Day was followed by Colin Powell’s dedication of a monument honoring their service at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The original African American troops proved their courage over and over again. They originally fought across the Western frontier and later in Mexico, Cuba, and the Philippines. They stood their ground in both World Wars. Over time, members of the regiments earned 23 Medals of Honor.
They were also our first park rangers. Before we had a national park system, we had Buffalo Soldiers building roads across Yosemite. They blazed trails to the top of Mount Whitney and forged wagon roads through deep Sequoia forests.
These determined men surveyed and mapped the Texas plains and strung endless miles of telegraph lines. They also built new forts and protected wagon trains traveling across the west.
They did all this for a country that would not integrate its armed forces until 1948. Yes, they were soldiers, but they were so much more. We salute all of them as we imagine them proudly riding by on National Buffalo Soldiers Day.