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Combat veteran portrays first Black soldiers who paved the way for a fragile America

Buffalo Soldiers in Texas helped win the West after the Civil War
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Posted at 4:55 PM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 19:22:58-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — When Horace Williams returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he didn't understand why so many Americans were so bitter toward himself and fellow soldiers.

"I was fighting to keep your kids — my kids and grandkids — (so that they) didn't have to go through what I went through," he said. "I thought we earned that right to be treated right."

When he returned stateside, he realized not everyone felt the same way. That experience is something he has in common with Buffalo Soldiers — Black soldiers who served on the battlefield, but 100 years earlier.

George Owens was once a slave in Kentucky. He volunteered to serve in the Civil War in 1864 before joining the Buffalo Soldiers' all-black 9th U.S. Cavalry in 1866. After Owens was discharged, he settled in Corpus Christi, after he died on June 4, 1879, an historical marker was placed near his tombstone in Old Bayview Cemetery in Corpus Christi — the oldest federal military cemetery in Texas.

Every November, Williams travels from his home in San Antonio to portray Owens and other Buffalo Soldiers in a re-enactment at Old Bayview Cemetery.

He teaches anyone willing to listen about how this group of former soldiers actually got paid to serve, and how it changed their lives.

"He got his freedom by joining the Army," Williams said. "He got his freedom."

Williams feels a special connection to the historic group of soldiers, especially by their lives after leaving the military. Owens and other Black soldiers actually had fewer rights after they were discharged.

"They (white people) seen a Black man in a blue uniform — it was frowned upon in Texas," Williams said.

It wasn't until the late 1860's and 70's before Black residents in the United States were even granted citizenship and allowed to vote.

After the Civil War, Buffalo Soldiers did much more than help American settle the West: They fought in the Indian Wars with honor, and protected travelers along the way.

"They actually were the first peace officers in Texas," Williams said.

They also installed new roads, telegraph wires, and railroad tracks. They even delivered the mail.

Historian Norman Delaney contends that these soldiers met every criteria of the ideal soldier.

"Imagine: 11 members of that one African-American unit received the Congressional Medal of Honor," Delaney said. "Many other Blacks, also during the Civil War and afterward, received that medal for courageous actions during combat."

Despite the accolades they received, the US military remained segregated for 50 more years.

Since then, strides have been made for equality in the military ranks. The Buffalo Soldiers paved the way, Williams said, and for that he's grateful, but he believes there's still more work to be done to educate about the struggles of minorities to achieve equality. .