WASHINGTON — Mark Matthews, the oldest Buffalo Soldier, has died at the age of 111.
He’ll be buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Matthews joined the legendary unit of black cavalry troops in 1910 at the age of 16. He soon found himself serving under Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing in the Army’s pursuit of Pancho Villa, the revolutionary from Mexico who was considered a bandit.
Matthews later served in the South Pacific during World War II, rising to the rank of 1st sergeant.
The name Buffalo Soldiers was given to the troops of the all-black 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments by their adversaries in the Indian wars of the late 1800s. The name is believed to have originated either because the Indians thought the soldiers’ hair resembled a buffalo’s mane or that the Indians respected the soldiers for their courage and fearlessness, qualities they found in the buffalo.
The soldiers wore the nickname with pride. And they earned their reputation. More than 20 Buffalo Soldiers went on to receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for valor. No other unit has won more.
After retiring from the Army shortly before it was formally desegregated by President Truman, Matthews had a long career as a security guard at the National Institutes of Health.
In his later years Matthews became a symbol of the Buffalo Soldiers. In 1994 he was invited to the White House to meet President Clinton.
And in 2002 he visited the State Department to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell, the first African-American to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell had been instrumental in getting a monument to the Buffalo Soldiers built at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1992.
According to the Washington Post, which first reported Matthews death, he was until his passing the oldest man in Washington, D.C. He died September 6 of pneumonia at a D.C. nursing home.
A funeral service will be at Trinity AME Zion Church in Washington.