Roger Holloway was 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Army. It was May 17, 1950, and little did he know, he would become one of the last living Buffalo Soldiers, now on a new mission to keep the stories of these black vanguards alive.
“Most of the people have forgotten,” said Holloway from his home on Belmont hill in Hopkinsville. “... But people like me will tell the story. People like me know the truth because I witnessed it.”
The Buffalo Soldiers were all-black troops created in 1866 after Congress passed the Army Organization Act. They mainly served on the Western frontier following the American Civil War but also went on to fight in the Spanish-American War and the Korean War.
This segregated section of the Army was comprised of six all-black cavalry and infantry regiments — 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24th and 25th Infantry, which were consolidated from four regiments.
The 9th Cavalry Regiment was mustered in Louisiana in August and September 1866. The men were tasked with helping control the Native Americans of the Plains, capturing cattle rustlers and thieves and protecting settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the Western front, History.com states.
“The black soldiers, facing their own forms of discrimination from the U.S. government, were tasked with removing another minority group in that government’s name, “the website states.
According to the Congressional Record, Buffalo Soldiers secured the first U.S. victory in Korea on July 20, 1950, “when the Army’s oldest Negro Infantry regiment, spear-headed by the Twenty-fifth Division, which had just come into the line, counter-attacked and drove the Reds out of Yechon.”
Although Holloway joined the military months before this victory, he was in training at Fort Knox when it happened.
A native of Dyersburg, Tennessee, Holloway joined the Army before his 18th birthday with the blessing of his parents.
He was sent to Korea on Oct. 12, 1950. He was originally assigned to Company E of the 24th Infantry Regiment, but after 23 days online, he was reassigned to Headquarters Company 2nd Battalion.
“I was a demolition man,” he said.
Holloway, now in his 80s, joined shortly before the all-black regiment was integrated into the general Army in 1951. Holloway said his place in this history is minute, but he tells his story to credit those who paved the way.
“I’m not trying to express my valiance,” he said. “I’m very small; I stand on the shoulders of a lot of men that never got credit. Guys that never had the chance to ride the bus that they went to give their lives (for). Those are the people I want to talk about.”
Before Holloway joined, the Buffalo Soldiers were already an accomplished group of men. The 10th Cavalry, with the help of the 38th Infantry (which later rolled into the 24th Infantry), had protected the Pacific Railroad, facing the Cheyenne in two battles near the Saline River. History.com says the regiment lost one man and a few horses in the battle, and it is said that they were nicknamed “buffalo soldiers” by the Indians because of their dark skin and curly hair.
The Buffalo Soldiers went on to rescue white soldiers after the Spanish led them to an entrapment during the Spanish-American War, and in World War 1, they defended the Mexican border, History.com explains.
“Despite these heroic deeds, they were left out of the U.S. history books,” Holloway said. “Even in battle, you couldn’t win any way because you were black. That was in the culture.”
Holloway said even after desegregation of the troops, some still saw black soldiers as less than.
“It was pretty rough integrating,” he said. “I came back from Vietnam at 18, 19 years of age, and I was a young corporal. Then you had people who had been working in the iron mills, big supermen, white guys that were drafted in the service, and they couldn’t stand a little, young black guy telling them what to do and I caught hell as a corporal squad leader.”
Holloway said ironically, there was one white guy who was a private first class that turned things around.
“I guess he was my angel,” Holloway recalled. “His name was Virgil van Paris, he wore glasses and he was from Bay City, Michigan — I’ll never forget him. He calmed those white guys down.
“He was a devout Catholic and he should’ve been in the priesthood,” Holloway said as he choked back tears. “I always wondered what happened to him, but I never could find him again. He was my angel. That’s why it makes me angry when someone says ‘all whites are alike.’ It makes me angry because I’ve had all types of people save my life.”
Holloway said, as part of the military, he faced more situations than not where “color meant nothing and survival meant everything.”
Holloway took a break of service in 1953, working stints at a post office and in a steel fondry in Milwaukee.
He re-enlisted in 1954 and wanted to go airborne.
“I did not want to be stationed in the South,” Holloway said. “The most northern Airborne was in Kentucky, but it was still the South.”
Holloway went 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell from 1958 to 1961, and went Special Forces at Fort Bragg in 1961. He stayed there until his wife got sick and retired in 1972 after 21 years in.
Twenty years later, July 28, 1992, was designated as Buffalo Soldiers Day. Few cities, like Houston, celebrate it each year.
Holloway, his wife, Alberta, and their adult daughter, Marsha, have attended Buffalo Soldiers reunions over the years.
Marsha said when the reunions first start, the ballroom would be packed.
“The last year they had one in Knoxville, and it was about 30 people there,” she said. “They’re all dying off. I don’t know if they’ll have it next year.”
Looking back at the progress the Army and the country as a whole, Holloway imagines the military is “like paradise” for black soldiers now, but he still wants the country as a whole to honor the work of the Buffalo Soldier before they’re all gone.
“The wish is that their lives will not be in vain,” Holloway said. “Like my girl, Maya Angelou says, ‘I rise.’ You can’t bury the truth. You may bury it for awhile, but eventually it will rise.”