Matthews, Mark, 1st Sgt

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Last Rank
First Sergeant
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
761-Cavalry Platoon Sergeant
Last MOS Group
Armor (Enlisted)
Primary Unit
1910-1949, 761, 10th Cavalry Regiment
Service Years
1910 - 1949

First Sergeant

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by MAJ Mark E Cooper to remember Matthews, Mark, 1st Sgt.

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Home Town
Not Specified
Last Address
Washington, D.C.

Date of Passing
Sep 06, 2005
Location of Interment
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Buffalo Soldier a Patriot to the End
Oldest Among Black Army Regiment Laid to Rest At Arlington Cemetery
By Avis Thomas-Lester and Hamil R. Harris
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

He was 111 when he died last week, believed to be the oldest of the Buffalo Soldiers -- the black Army men on horseback who helped settle the West and fought abroad even as they were denied personal freedoms at home.

Mark Matthews was born in 1894, when Grover Cleveland was president, 28 years after the federal government had formed six regiments of black soldiers, largely to acknowledge the contribution they made during the Civil War.

As he was laid to rest yesterday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, First Sergeant Matthews was remembered by family, friends and military colleagues as a dedicated father, a committed friend and a patriot, the elder statesman of a group that opened the door for blacks in military service long before the Tuskegee Airmen took to the skies.

"He was a piece of living history," said Mary E. Brown, 85, vice president of the Baltimore chapter of Buffalo Soldiers Inc. and a close friend. She told a story about taking a dark blue cavalry hat and bright yellow scarf to the aging soldier last month on his birthday. "When I placed the hat on his head, he said, 'This hat is too small.' He was spit and polish until the day he died."

More than 1,000 people attended two wakes for Matthews at Trinity AME Church in Northwest yesterday and Sunday. And more than 500 were present for his burial yesterday afternoon in a vault above his wife, Genevieve, who died in 1986.

Mary Matthews Watson, his daughter and caretaker, was given a folded U.S. flag in honor of her father, who was also the oldest man on record in the District. He died of pneumonia September 6, 2005, at a Washington nursing home.

"It is really true that old soldiers never die -- they just fade away," Watson said after the service. "When they presented me the flag, I felt not only for my father, but for all the Buffalo Soldiers and the other African American soldiers who were such great heroes and such great Americans."

No one knows how many Buffalo Soldiers are left. Their numbers have dwindled as years, then decades, and now more than a century have passed since the group's inception in 1866, the year after the Civil War ended.

They were known then simply as the "colored soldiers," about 5,000 men who enlisted in the 9th and 10th cavalries and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st infantry units. Some signed on for the chance to see more than the fields they had worked as slaves, others to take a part in the change they knew was coming.

They worked long hours laying roads and telegraph lines, escorting wagon trains and guarding stagecoaches. They fought against Geronimo in Arizona and against Spain in Cuba. Matthews was among those who helped Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing pursue Pancho Villa in Mexico. Later, he trained recruits in horsemanship at Fort Myer and fought in the South Pacific in World War II.

Coley Davis, 83, a friend from Livingston Manor, NEw York, said the men wore the name Buffalo Soldiers with pride. The nickname had been bestowed by Indians, who said their curly hair reminded them of a buffalo's mane. The name was also a term of respect, soldiers said.

"Like the buffalo, they fought with strength and power when confronted," said William Aleshire of Bowie, the group's spokesman and author of a book on the black soldiers.

Davis recalled the life of the horse soldiers in the cavalry, who patrolled the West on horseback until the horse units were mechanized in 1944. His shins still bear the scars from the tight riding boots the soldiers wore.

He recalled their struggles to be treated fairly, despite their heroic exploits.

"I remember at the pool at Fort Meade, they used to let the white boys swim on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then we could swim on Thursday. Then they drained the pool and scrubbed it so the white boys could have a clean pool again on Monday," he recalled.

Yesterday's ceremony for Matthews included a procession, led by members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, from the church to the cemetery, where black soldiers were once buried in a segregated area. The motorcyclists wore the group's trademark blue cavalry hat and brown leather jacket.

As they remembered Matthews, loved ones fretted that the history of the Buffalo Soldiers might die with them.

"African Americans have [served] with honor and distinction for decades, lest we forget," said Loretta Clarke, 70, a member of the D.C. Chapter of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry who stood proudly at attention during the funeral in her dress blue uniform and cavalry hat.

Added Davis: "I was the first black soldier to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You'd be surprised about how many people never heard of the Buffalo Soldiers."

But others said their contributions will always be a part of U.S. history, pointing to a monument that was dedicated to them at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1992 and a postage stamp issued in their honor in 1994.

"We came down here because Trooper Matthews was one of our own. He was a great man," said Herb Dorsey, of Fort Dix, New Jersey, who led the motorcycle procession.

"He was a Buffalo Soldier ," he said, standing taller.

Mark Matthews Funeral Services PHOTO
The casket of 111 year-old First Sergeant Mark Matthews, one the the last members of the Buffalo Soldiers, 
is carried to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, September 19, 2005

Mark Matthews Funeral Services PHOTO
Arlington National Cemetery Chaplain Kenneth Kerr, right, hands a flag to the daughter 
of 111 year-old 1st Sgt. Mark Matthews, on Monday, September 19, 2005

Mark Matthews Funeral Services PHOTO
Loretta Clarke, of Washington, stands at Arlington National Cemetery before the funeral of 111 
year-old First Sergeant Mark Matthews, one the last members of the Buffalo Soldiers, on Monday, 
September 19, 2005.  Clarke is dressed in the period dress uniforms of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Other Comments:
Sergeant Mark Matthews Dies; at 111, Was Oldest Buffalo Soldier
By Joe Holley
Courtsy of the Washington Post
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Retired First Sergeant Mark Matthews, 111, one of the last of the nation's legendary Buffalo Soldiers, died of pneumonia September 6, 2005, at Fox Chase Nursing Home in Washington.

Sergeant Matthews, who also was the oldest Buffalo Soldier, was heir to a proud military heritage that originated with the black soldiers who fought in the Indian wars on the Western frontier. Historians say that the Cheyenne, Kiowa and Apache tribes bestowed the appellation because the soldiers' black, curly hair reminded them of a buffalo's mane.

Mark Matthews PHOTO
One of First Sergeant Mark Matthews's duties was assisting the 1916 search for Pancho Villa in Mexico. (Family Photo)

Given Native American reverence for the sturdy animal of the Plains, the soldiers wore the nickname proudly -- and with good reason. The Buffalo Soldiers won 20 Medals of Honor, more than any other regiment. They also helped lay hundreds of miles of roads and telegraph lines, protected stagecoaches, were involved in the military actions against the Apache chiefs Victorio and Geronimo and fought bravely in Cuba at the side of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.

Sergeant Matthews joined up at the end of the Buffalo Soldiers' colorful Western exploits. The regiments that made up the Buffalo Soldiers -- the 9th and 10th cavalries and 24th and 25th infantries -- stayed together for years afterward, however, fighting in World War I and II and Korea. The all-black regiments were disbanded in 1952 after the Army desegregated.

Sergeant Matthews was born August 7, 1894, in Greenville, Alabama, and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. He rode horses starting when he was a child, delivering newspapers on his pony.

According to stories Sergeant Matthews told friends, family members and at least one military historian, he was 15 when he met members of the Buffalo Soldiers' 10th Cavalry; they were visiting a Lexington, Kentucky, racetrack where he worked exercising the horses. When the soldiers told him that they rode horseback wherever they went, he decided he had to join up. Although young men had to be 17 to enlist, his boss concocted documents that convinced a Columbus, Ohio, recruiter that he was of age.

"I was 16 when I joined the Army to be a soldier," he told Parade Magazine in 2003. "I had to wait awhile before I could get on duty. But then they shipped me to the West."

Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where he was first stationed, was still using local Indians as guides. "I learned all the different rules, how to ride the different horses, how to jump and how to shoot," he recalled in the 2003 interview. "Every time I got in a contest where I shot at a target or something, I usually won."

He served along the U.S.-Mexican border as part of General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing's 1916 expedition into Mexico, on the trail of Mexican bandit and revolutionary Pancho Villa. "I never met him," Sergeant Matthews said in the Parade interview, "but I knew where he was at."

In 1931, he was assigned to Fort Myer, where he trained recruits in horsemanship, helped tend the presidential stable for Franklin D. Roosevelt and played on the polo team. Ten years later, although he was in his late forties when the United States entered World War II, he saw action on Saipan in the South Pacific.

He retired from the Army in 1949 and became a security guard at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He retired a second time, as chief of guards, in 1970.

In retirement, he liked to fish. He also enjoyed sitting on the front porch and telling tales about the old days out West and the not-quite-so-old days in the Pacific during World War II, often to neighborhood kids who came around and sat at the knee of a man who had experienced an adventure-novel's worth of stirring chapters in U.S. history.

He spent time with the children, enjoyed looking after them. He took them fishing with him, made sure they got to school, took them in if they needed a place to stay. "They called him Daddy," daughter Mary Matthews Watson recalled.

He met with President Bill Clinton at the White House, and in 2002 marked his 108th birthday by meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who for many years campaigned for a monument honoring the Buffalo Soldiers. In 1992, Powell, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dedicated the monument at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., birthplace of one of the regiments.

Believed to be Washington's oldest man -- the District's Office on Aging lists a woman, Corrine Taylor, as slightly older -- he had lived with his daughter in the same Northwest neighborhood for more than half a century. He had been in good health until recently. Before he began to lose his eyesight to glaucoma about 10 years ago, he enjoyed reading his Bible daily. He was a former member and trustee of Trinity AME Zion Church in the District, a member of Prince Hall Masonic Temple and a member of the Washington, D.C., Chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association.

His wife, Genevieve Hill Matthews, died in 1986. They had been married 57 years. A daughter, Shirley Ann Matthews Mills, died in 1988.

In addition to Watson, of Washington, survivors include two other daughters, Gloria J. Matthews, also of Washington, and Barbara Jean Young of Dacula, Ga.; a son, Mark Matthews Jr. of Hyattsville; nine grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.

"I did it all," Sergeant Matthews told The Washington Post a few years ago. "Yes, I was there."

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10th Cavalry Regiment
  1910-1949, 761, 10th Cavalry Regiment
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1911-1919 Mexican Service Campaign (1911-1919)
  1944-1944 New Guinea Campaign (1943-44)/Battle of Saipan
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