SC’s last Buffalo Soldier dies at 92

This photo of Taft and Evelyn Henry of Winnsboro appeared in a 2015 Valentines Day story featuring them in The Voice. Here they looked through a scrapbook that covered their (then) 62 years of marriage. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – When Taft Henry was laid to rest last week, his friends and acquaintances remembered him as a peaceful man – a good man who volunteered his time to help his community. He was on the hospital board, the county’s election commission and social services board. He was a cub master at Calvary Presbyterian Church, and a life-long member of St. John AME Church where he served as class leader, trustee emeritus, Sunday school teacher and president of the lay organization.  He volunteered so faithfully at McCrorey-Listen Elementary that the S. C. School Board Association presented him with the Friend of Education award.

Henry

Henry served quietly and conscientiously in these and other volunteer capacities in Fairfield County.

But most people probably didn’t know that before those years of community service, Henry, born and raised in Fairfield County, had served his country as a Buffalo Soldier in the all black 24th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army.

It is believed that he was the last living Buffalo Soldier in South Carolina.

Buffalo Soldiers were established by Congress in 1866 as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army. They originally were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Their assignments included border and Indian control, which frequently involved dangerous conflicts.

The nickname was given to the black cavalry by Native American tribes who encountered the soldiers in the Indian Wars and other skirmishes. The term eventually became synonymous with all of the African-American regiments formed in 1866:  the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiment and the 25th, 38th and 41st Infantry Regiments.

And the proud thread of identity associated with the original Buffalo Soldiers continued through the years in the black regiments.

In 1869, the 38th and 41st Regiments were combined into a new single all black 24th Infantry Regiment, still nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers until it was deactivated in 1951 during the Korean conflict. The deactivation resulted from President Truman’s executive order that eliminated racial segregation in the military.

Henry enlisted in the Army’s 24th infantry regiment in 1946, at the end of World War II, a time when black Army soldiers were relegated primarily to support roles. By the beginning of the Korean conflict in 1950, however, Henry’s 24th regiment was in the first of a group of fighting units that were sent to South Korea where they were recognized as gallant fighters, according to family members.

For his sacrifice, Henry received the Combat Infantry Badge and other Korean conflict medals.

While Henry was fighting in Korea, his high school sweetheart, Evelyn, was back home earning a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of South Carolina. They maintained a long-distance engagement for three years before marrying in 1952 at her parents’ home.

After their marriage, Henry’s military career took them to see the world together. They were stationed in Virginia and then Germany before Henry retired in l968, and the couple returned to Fairfield County. Evelyn taught at McCrorey-Liston Elementary School and eventually retired as the school’s principal after a 30-year education career.

“We had a wonderful life together,” Evelyn said of the couple’s 68-year marriage. “We had a lot of good memories.”

One of Henry’s most cherished memories over the years, however, Evelyn said, was having been a Buffalo Soldier, a distinction he was uniquely proud of.

“He didn’t talk much about it, but when he did, I could tell it meant so much to him,” she said.

In honor of Henry’s service as a Buffalo Soldier, the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club, Columbia S.C. Chapter, escorted Henry to his final resting place in the St. John A.M.E. Church cemetery where his friends and family bade him farewell.