LAWTON – Remembering the historical significance of a military unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers will be the centerpiece of a fundraising banquet set for Saturday, July 30.
The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a social hour followed by a 6:30 p.m. dinner at the Hilton Garden Inn Convention Center in Lawton.
Members of Buffalo Soldiers chapters nationwide were scheduled to come to Lawton for the reunion, but meetings involving chapter presidents, boards of directors and the general membership were moved to a virtual format because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and challenges with the airlines, said Robert McClain, past president of the Lawton chapter.
However, the reunion dinner for the local chapter will proceed as scheduled with about 250 people expected to attend.
McClain said he and other Lawton chapter members are disappointed that members from throughout the country could not attend.
“It’s probably going to be seven to eight years before we get a chance to host again,” McClain said.
The last in-person reunion was held in 2019 at Mobile, Alabama.
McClain wants people to understand the role Buffalo Soldiers played in Oklahoma. According to McClain, the unit came to Fort Sill in 1869 and constructed some of the buildings still standing on base. The unit, which was comprised of Black Army soldiers, also dug Flipper’s Ditch at Fort Sill to provide water drainage. Lawton has paid tribute to the Buffalo Soldiers with a downtown statue, the only one of its kind in Oklahoma.
Members of the Lawton chapter make school presentations to ensure Buffalo Soldiers are not left out of their history lessons.
The Buffalo Soldiers was established by Congress as the first peacetime all-Black regiment in the regular U.S. Army following the American Civil War. Their main responsibilities were to help control the Native Americans of the Plains, capture cattle rustlers and thieves and protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad crews along the Western front.
One theory claims the Buffalo Soldier nickname arose because the soldiers fought so valiantly and fiercely that the Indians revered them as they did the mighty buffalo.
“I’m not for sure how much information there is about this unit in the history books,” McClain said.
The Buffalo Soldier units disbanded in 1944 at the end of World War II.
McClain also wants younger men to become part of the Lawton chapter.
“I think our youngest member is in his 50s. Nobody gets paid, and we buy our own uniforms,” he said.
The Lawton chapter takes its civic duty seriously by providing three $1,000 scholarships each year and giving away as many as 40 Christmas food baskets to needy families.
A golf tournament to benefit the Lawton chapter is scheduled to start 7 a.m., Monday, July 25. The tourney will be held at the Fort Sill course.