The Lawton-Fort Sill Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers hosted a presentation at Enid Woodring Regional Airport recently on the history of one of America’s lesser-known military units. There are 40 chapters of the Buffalo Soldiers, with one in Oklahoma, said Tony Washington, president of that chapter. The name Buffalo Soldiers derives from Native Americans who witnessed the units in battle. What the Black soldiers showed on the battlefield was reminiscent of the tenacity of the buffalo, and the name stuck. The Buffalo Soldiers were activated as a U.S. military unit in 1866 following the Emancipation Proclamation with the creation of four infantry units and two cavalry units. But those units were activated under the guise that they would be separate units from the rest of the military and that they could only be commanded by white officers. The units were also given substandard equipment and food rations, often having to hunt to supplement their food intake.
With the fact that many of the accomplishments of the Buffalo Soldiers being historically suppressed even at the time, the history of the unit is not well known. Washington said that is an important aspect of the message shared by the chapter.
The Buffalo Soldiers had numerous commendations and 42 Medal of Honor recipients. The Buffalo Soldiers were deactivated in 1951 with the integration of the military. But the experiences of those soldiers was similar, whether during the Civil War, World War I or World War II. This highly decorated unit was a key to success in many battles and missions. Our goal is to educate our next generation of the value of all members of our armed forces.
The Ambassador of France to the United States regularly honors American veterans of World War II. Paying tribute to those men is a way to express France’s gratitude toward those who risked their lives—and in many cases, gave their lives—defending liberty. After submitting an application, most American veterans who served in France during World Wars I and II are inducted into the Légion d’honneur,. or Legion of Honor.
The French Legion of Honor is an order of distinction first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in May of 1802. It is the highest decoration bestowed in France and is divided into five categories: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross). The highest degree of the Order of the Legion of Honor is that of Grand Master, which is held by the sitting President of the Republic.
Foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may receive a distinction from the Legion of Honor. American recipients include Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Michael Mullen, and even, as an institution, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Today there are approximately 93,000 Legion of Honor recipients. American veterans who risked their lives during World War II and who fought on French territory qualify to be decorated as Knights of the Legion of Honor. Veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.
The Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park has successfully applied for and attained five (5) of the Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor. The oral history of those veterans have been shared across social media, news media and in public ceremonies.
In partnership with the City of Enid Communications team, those oral histories have been documents and archived for educational purposes.
The Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park has partnered with the Experimental Aircraft Association to host lectures on Sunday afternoons at the ML Becker Educational Center. One of our local Vietnam veterans shared his testimony about his service recently.
Captain Robert “Bob” Ford, US Army, was born in August 1944 and raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma Army ROTC program in 1966 followed by flight school. A week before graduation, a General asked him to go to the Aircraft Officer Maintenance Course and his reply was “Sir, I want to go to Vietnam, serve my country, and fly in combat.”
In July 1967, three weeks after graduation, 1st Lieutenant Ford arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to the 282nd Air Assault Company in DaNang. In September 1967, he assumed command of the 282nd’s Hue Detachment and would fly direct support missions for MACV, SF, LRRP, Ranger, and Hac Bao units close to the DMZ and Laos. He flew three resupply missions into the besieged outpost at Huong Hoa on 21 January 1968, the beginning of the siege of Khe Sahn, and ten days later, during the Tet Offensive, he and his unit helped defend the MACV Headquarters in Hue against a three-day ground attack. Ford is recognized for his heroic Vietnam combat helicopter service of over 1,000 missions. For his service he received the Bronze Star Medal and Air Medal with 12 Oak Leaf Clusters, one with “V” device for Valor.
Upon leaving the military in 1969, he became vice-chairman of the Ford Family Shawnee Mills facility in Okeene, Oklahoma. Ford’s largesse has enormously benefitted the children and the town in the form of funded college educations and student expenses for needy families; computers in schools; donated bicycles for Okeene’s annual Christmas Santa drawing; and upkeep of Okeene’s public pool. He provides the Veterans Day speakers brought to the local schools on Veterans Day; he speaks at civic clubs, churches, schools, and on radio to provide positive and patriotic messages on what it means to serve with HONOR. He truly wants to ensure a better future for the youth.
Ford has left his mark in his autobiography, Black Cat 2-1, documenting his “give back” legacy. Captain Ford is a worthy recipient of the “Major General Douglas O. Dollar Distinguished Public Service Award” for exemplary public and local community service, going above and beyond in support of Oklahoma’s Veterans and his community.