Monday, October 15, 2012

A Real Buffalo Soldier

I had the privilege of meeting a genuine Buffalo Soldier recently.  Most people associate that moniker with the old African American 10th and 9th Cavalry who served on the western frontier in the late 19th Century.  But another generation of Buffalo Soldiers served during World War II.

The US Army’s 92nd Infantry Division was the only all black division to serve in the European Theater of operations during World War II.  The 92nd proudly displayed their Buffalo Soldier heritage with the “buffalo” shoulder patch.

When I visited Harper’s Ferry Historic Site this week, I ran into this gentleman.  He had just returned from the reunion of the 92nd Division that was held at Silver Spring, Maryland. 
Mr. James Daughtery and myself at Harpers Ferry.
Photo by Phyllis Hubbs
  Mr. James “Pat” Daugherty was one of the youngest survivors of the 92nd who attended the reunion.  He is 88 years old.  His ball cap proudly displayed the 92nd’s buffalo patch, a Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman’s Badge. 

Mr. Daugherty deployed with his division to Italy in August 1944, and fought against the Germans there until the end of the War.  Between August 1944 and May 1945 the 92nd Division suffered 3,200 casualties.  Unlike white infantry divisions, the 92nd received no replacements as the War progressed as there were no African American infantrymen in the replacement pipeline, and the Army would supply no white troops to fight shoulder to shoulder with the blacks.
It was only after my meeting with Mr. Daugherty that I discovered that he was a celebrity in his own right.  Mr. Daugherty wrote an account of his experiences during the War and his disappointing return to the discriminatory Jim Crow laws of his home state of Maryland.  He wrote this down by hand in 1947.  At the urging of relatives, he published his memoirs as The Buffalo Saga in 2009. 

Daughtery went on to study at Howard University in Washington D.C. on the G.I. Bill and to work as an administrator in the U.S. Public Health Service.  He overcame Jim Crow to become the first African-American to serve on the board of the Montgomery County, Maryland Public Schools.  July 28 is now officially “Buffalo Soldier James Daugherty Day” in Silver Spring, his home town.

Smithsonian Magazine published an article about him and his book that year.  You can see it here:

A series of interviews with Mr. Daughtery were filmed soon after his book was published.  In the first, he shows his beloved “steel pot” helmet and the mortar shell fragment that almost killed him.
Mr. Daugherty told me about being contacted by film director Spike Lee.  Lee took the old Buffalo Soldier scouting for locations in Italy to shoot his film “The Miracle of St Anna” which told the story of the World War II Buffalo Soldiers. 

He recalled to me:  “They took me to the cemetery in Italy and I saw all those markers lined up in neat rows.  There were lots of boys left there.  Sometimes I wonder why they all had to die.”

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