Oldest Buffalo Soldier marks 108th birthday


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The oldest living member of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers marked his 108th birthday Wednesday with a trip to the State Department.

Retired Master Sgt. Mark Matthews met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, a long-time advocate of commemorating the Buffalo Soldiers -- black soldiers who served in segregated outfits on the Western frontier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Matthews, born in 1894 in Greenville, Alabama, enlisted at age 16 and served for many years in Arizona and Texas. He patrolled the Mexican border with the 10th Cavalry, which was disbanded in 1949 during the desegregation of the Army after World War II.

In the last years before his retirement in 1949, he trained recruits in horsemanship and helped tend the presidential stable, said William Aleshire, a Bowie, Maryland, city councilman and military historian who accompanied Matthews and family members to the State Department.

Matthews now lives in the District of Columbia with family members.

"He still has a lot of vim and vigor," Aleshire said.

Powell, the first black to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was among those who campaigned strongly for a monument honoring the Buffalo Soldiers. Powell dedicated the monument in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1992.

A relative of Matthews, Wayne Curry, executive for Prince George County, Maryland, presented Powell with a portrait of Matthews.

The name Buffalo Soldiers was given to the troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments by their adversaries in the Indian wars following the Civil War.

The Indians respected the black soldiers for their courage and fearlessness, qualities they found in the buffalo. They also thought the soldiers' hair resembled the tuft between the horns of the bison.

In any case, the soldiers wore the nickname with pride.

The name eventually also came to be associated with the all-black 24th and 25th Infantry regiments, which often fought beside the cavalry outfits.

At least 14 Buffalo Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor in the years from 1870 and 1890.

All four outfits later distinguished themselves in the Spanish-American War in 1898, and segregated units fought in both world wars and the Korean War.



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