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Buffalo Soldier's life chronicled

February 27, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

The Buffalo Soldier in the grainy black-and-white photograph stared out into the crowd gathered Saturday to honor him.

Some 50 people met in the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Hagerstown during a ceremony to dedicate articles commemorating the life of the late William O. Wilson, a native of Hagerstown.

The event was sponsored by Memorial Recreation Center and Brothers United Who Dare To Care, Inc., a community group that wants to set up a Black History room at the King center.

Wilson, who lived at 108 W. North Ave. across the site of the current center, was a Buffalo Soldier in the U.S. Army, 9th Calvary, during the Indian Wars of the late 1800s.

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His life was depicted in several panels holding photographs, newspaper clippings and documents chronicling his rich legacy of bravery and patriotism.

Wilson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1891 for an act of bravery during the Pine Ridge Campaign in South Dakota.

Stan Brown, Jr., vice president of Brothers United Who Dare to Care, said Wilson's receipt of the Medal of Honor was "really a significant event" in black history, and the group wanted to formally honor him.

"It's a chance for us to continue on with our remembrance of William Othello Wilson as a Buffalo Soldier and a Medal of Honor winner," Brown said.

He said Feb. 20 has been designated statewide as Buffalo Soldier Day.

This year on that day, state legislators in Annapolis and several other Maryland cities read proclamations, resolutions and citations in recognition of Wilson, said Trooper Isaac L. Prentice, of the Greater Washington, D.C. chapter of the 9th and 10th Horse Calvary Regiments.

In 1866, Congress allowed blacks to join the regular army for the first time, Prentice told those residents assembled here Saturday. By the time Wilson served, there were two calvary units and two infantry units, he said.

He said the Native Americans dubbed the 10th Calvary unit "buffalo soldiers" out of reverence for their fighting ability, and because the Indians likened the black soldiers' hair to the matted fur between the buffalo's horns.

"The name stuck with the 10th Calvary and became a badge of honor with them," Prentice said.

Buffalo Soldiers such as Wilson not only battled Native Americans in the West, but protected wagon trains, built forts in remote posts, erected telegraph wires and surveyed and mapped unknown territories, he said.

"I feel quite elated to think that after all these years, he's been recognized for all he did," said Wilson's daughter, Anna V. Jones.

Jones, 86, who is a resident of Potomac Towers in Hagerstown, said she and her sister, Elsie Comer, 94, of Colton Villa Nursing Center, are Wilson's only surviving children. Five of her siblings are deceased, Jones said.

Though her father died when she was 14 years old - five years after her mother passed away, Jones said her memories of him are very much alive.

"He was a Jack-of-all-trades," she said. "He was a man, I can tell you. He was a man."

In addition to Saturday's dedication ceremony, Wilson was honored in November during the unveiling of a Wilmington, Del., memorial boasting African American Medal of Honor winners, said Mary M. Jones, of Princeton, N.J. She is Wilson's granddaughter-in-law.

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