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Buffalo Soldiers honored at ceremony

March 04, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

A platoon of 16 teenage girls demonstrated their precision marching skills Saturday during a Buffalo Soldier Day celebration of African-American veterans at the Martin Luther King Center in Hagerstown.

The drill team came from Vision Quest, a privately run rehabilitation camp for young people who have been disciplined in the judicial system.

Members of the platoon were sent to Vision Quest three months ago by the courts and assigned to the drill team. They had to become good enough in three months to perform in public.

The members graduate Tuesday and will be sent home.

"We're proud of ourselves," one girl said. "We proved that we could have the discipline and teamwork and that we could work together."

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Vision Quest officials asked that the girls' names not be used.

The platoon's exhibition was part of a ceremony to honor black veterans - more specifically, the Buffalo Soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars between 1866 and 1890.

Speakers said 18 Buffalo Soldiers earned Medals of Honor between 1870 and 1890 in the Western campaigns.

Three were from Maryland, including Cpl. William Othello Wilson, a Chewsville native. He served with Troop I, 9th Cavalry.

Wilson earned his medal for riding through enemy territory on his way to get reinforcements for his wagon train when it was pinned down at the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1890.

Wilson died in 1928 and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. There was no marker on his grave and its whereabouts became lost to the family over the years.

A grandson started searching for it in 1997. He got help from Donald Brown, a retired Boonsboro businessman, who found Wilson's grave. A ceremony honoring Wilson was held on May 30, 1998, at the cemetery.

Brown, who helped organize Saturday's ceremony, said U.S. Army officials at Arlington National Cemetery refused a request to send a bugler and rifle squad to the 1998 ceremony because the Army had Wilson listed as a deserter.

Brown said Wilson, a crack shot, had been sent to Des Moines, Iowa, to compete in an Army shooting competition. He stopped in Denver on the return to his post in Utah and reported he had lost his train ticket.

Wilson was given money, but he used it to return to Hagerstown. The Army never came after him, Brown said. "They didn't do that in those days."

Brown said officials at Arlington changed their minds and sent the bugler and rifle squad to Wilson's ceremony.

Back home, Wilson married, fathered his children, worked as a carpenter, cook and upholsterer and died in 1928.

Anna V. Jones, 90, Wilson's only surviving child, was present Saturday. The youngest of seven children, Jones said she was 14 when her father died.

Wilson wouldn't talk about his Army days, she said.

"We knew he had the medal, but he instilled in all of us that we were not to go out and brag to anyone that he earned it," Jones said. "We were proud of him, but we didn't talk about it."

The medal is kept in a family vault.

Brown said Saturday's ceremony was held to honor the memory of the Buffalo Soldiers. Trooper Richard Robinson, president of the National Ninth and Tenth (Horse) Cavalry Association in Baltimore, was the keynote speaker.

He said when Americans think of the cavalry they think of movies with John Wayne.

"You won't find the Buffalo Soldiers in the history books. They are becoming a legacy through oral history in ceremonies like this," he said.

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