Buffalo Soldier recalls service in all-black Army cavalry

Veterans Voices

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Retired Army Corporal Steve Lewis is living history. At 97 years old, the Florida veteran vividly remembers the day that changed America forever.

“I was in 12th grade when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was on a Sunday. At that time, we didn’t have TV. We had radio,” recalled Lewis.

After Pearl Harbor, Lewis enrolled at Florida A&M College in Tallahassee, now FAMUS. But a country at war meant his studies took a backseat.

“Every man in college had to be in the Enlisted Reserve Corps and they would march like soldiers all during the week and practice. That went on for two years,” Lewis said.

Eventually, Lewis was assigned to the 9th Cavalry. It was one of two all-black cavalries, known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

These all-African American cavalries started during the Civil War and lasted until 1948 when President Harry S. Truman integrated the military. By the early 1950s, they were gone.

“We didn’t know a thing about Buffalo Soldiers when we were in the Army. We never heard it,” he said.

Lewis may be the last living Buffalo Soldier around. He remembers his duties well.

“Each man was assigned a horse and you had to ride the horse, bring him in, wash him down, clean him up, feed him, then you go eat,” Lewis said.

Before the Army, Lewis had never really been on a horse. He had only seen them during his agriculture classes at Florida A&M.

Ralph Barnette is putting together a documentary about the Buffalo Soldiers. “In spite of the large swath of American history that they cover and their importance in American history, their story has never really been told,” Barnette said.

Lewis, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and a longtime educator in Manatee County, will be a big part of that documentary. He said his service, and that of others who served our country, needs to be remembered.

“They don’t give it the publicity it needs,” he said.

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