More than 20 years ago, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell dedicated the Buffalo Soldier Monument at Fort Leavenworth.
The heroic, 16-foot bronze rendering of a cavalry member astride a horse saluted the several African-American regular Army regiments established just after the Civil War. They included the 10th Cavalry, formed at Fort Leavenworth in 1866.
On Friday, the now-retired general and former Secretary of State Powell returned to help dedicate a new monument to honor a later African-American military legacy — his own.
He unveiled a bust of himself before about 1,000 people gathered at what is now Buffalo Soldier Memorial Park. During a 30-minute ceremony, Powell detailed how, while stationed at the fort during the 1980s as a brigadier general, he often would jog around the post looking for statues and memorials honoring the legacy of those who came to be known as Buffalo Soldiers.
All he found, he said, were two alleys bearing their names.
“I thought, ‘This isn’t right,’” Powell said.
“I was determined to change that. …
“I wanted an equestrian statue. They were troopers. They were cavalry. I wanted on that horse a trooper in his uniform, a uniform just like white soldiers would wear.
“I wanted him to have ‘U.S’ on his uniform … with a rifle in his hands and with courage in his heart. There would be no doubt that he was an equal, equal to any other soldier in the U.S. Army.”
Powell also addressed the legacy of the African-American soldiers of the 20th century.
“They were discriminated against, they were segregated, they were not treated as equals simply because of the color of their skin,” he said.
“Theirs was the time of Jim Crow, of lynching, the lie of ‘separate but equal.’ But they knew that if they performed, if they did their best for their country, that sooner or later their country would do its best for them and those who came after.”
However gratifying it may be to see his service saluted, Powell said, he hoped the new memorial would serve a larger purpose.
“The real reward,” he said, “would be if the monument would inspire future generations of young men and young women of all the colors of the American rainbow to serve as these cavalry men did.”
There was a strong Kansas City presence at the dedication.
“Not only did Gen. Powell work to place the monuments here to honor the Buffalo Soldiers, now he is here to get one for himself,” said Charles Conner, commander of the American Legion Wayne Miner Post 149 in Kansas City. “It’s prestigious, and we are here to honor him.”
The most gratified Kansas City area resident in attendance Friday likely was Carlton Philpot of Weatherby Lake.
The retired Navy commander has worked for more than two decades to honor the Buffalo Soldier legacy at Fort Leavenworth. In his remarks, Powell noted that while he may have had the vision, it was others, Philpot chief among them, who got it done.
After the ceremony, Philpot was still processing his emotions.
“I’m numb,” he said.
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