RICH KIPER: Race didn’t matter

Rich Kiper
Rich Kiper

Ernest Evans’ recent column, titled “Americans owe debt of gratitude to Black soldiers,” was excellent. He extolled the 1st Colored Infantry Regiment, later re-named the 79th Colored Infantry Regiment, which served in the Civil War. 

At Fort Leavenworth, we have the monument to the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments – the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Their mission was to keep order on the frontier where Indians were being moved onto reservations. That included fighting with the Indians.

Now such a monument is seen as a symbol of minority oppression. When will the “cancel culture” demand its demolition? Look no farther than Kansas City where there is a demand to remove Andrew Jackson statues.

Grant’s statue in San Francisco has been removed because he owned a slave. How long will it remain on Fort Leavenworth?

On May 31, 1897, the first monument to honor Black soldiers was unveiled in Boston in honor of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-Black unit, but commanded by a white officer, Col. Ronald Gould Shaw.

The heroism of those Black soldiers is well-known in military history. For those not aware, watch the movie “Glory.” 

The monument originally was to honor Col. Shaw, who was killed at the battle of Fort Wagner, the setting for the movie. He died along with the 272 Black soldiers during the fighting on July 18, 1863. 

Shaw’s family, however, wanted the monument to honor those Black soldiers also. And it does.

The monument depicts Col. Shaw on a horse with Black soldiers marching with their rifles on their shoulders. In this day of “cancel culture” the statue cannot remain. The cries are that the monument depicts Blacks as “subservient” to a white officer on horseback. 

During the Civil War, officers often rode horses while their men walked, but that is too complicated for brain-dead rioters to comprehend. 

On July 31, 2020, ignorant thugs vandalized the monument with profanity and painting BLM on the stone.

A major step in approving race relations was taken by President Truman on July 26, 1948, when he desegregated the military. In 1911 as a corporal in the military, Truman was a vehement segregationist. How long before his home in Independence is bulldozed and the Truman Library re-named?

The 1960s’ Civil Rights movement affected the military as well as the entire country. There were numerous incidents of Black demonstrations on military installations and white officers having to carry a weapon when on post after dark.

My experience was different.

My first company commander and first platoon sergeant in 1967 were Black. Both had served in Vietnam. I paid attention to what they said and did. My wife and I spent our first two weeks in Germany living with my company commander and his wife until we got quarters.

As a company commander in Vietnam, I had numerous Black soldiers in my company. When soldiers neared the end of their tour – being “short” – I  tried to find something for them to do that would not entail going back into the jungle. In one instance, I had a Black soldier who was “short.” I made him my jeep driver just before I went on another operation.

When I returned to the firebase, he met me with the Jeep, put his arm around me and thanked me. Obviously, it meant something since I still remember it. He was grateful to me, but I am grateful for that arm around me.

In another instance, the company was engaged in a significant firefight. Normally, the company commander is directing troop movements and calling in artillery and air strikes.

Instead, I was on my belly putting rounds down range because of the intense fire. Next to me was a Black sergeant first class who was doing the same. We talked to each other about what to do. Neither race nor rank was an issue. Several years later he was passing through where I was then stationed. My wife and I had him over for supper. I wanted her to meet that exceptional soldier.

In later assignments I would serve under and over Black officers and enlisted men. Maybe I was naïve, but I saw us all simply as American soldiers. 

I owe a debt of gratitude to the Black sergeant lying next to me, to my driver and to the colonels and generals who I saw as role models.

Americans owe a debt of gratitude to all soldiers.

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.