The Last Original Buffalo Soldier Laid to Rest at Arlington National Cemetery

By Mary Wells
WI Staff Writer
Thursday, September 22, 2005

Several hundred family, friends and members of the Buffalo Soldiers, solemnly bade 111-year-old Trooper Mark Matthews goodbye at Arlington National Cemetery this week. Graveside services started with a three-gun salute under a bright sun. A gentle breeze blew. The bugler followed solemnly playing taps. The simple services for Trooper Matthews ended with the release of white doves to symbolize his free spirit.

When Trooper Matthews was alive, he played in the Buffalo Soldiers’ drum and bugle corps and


Photo By Mary Wells
L-r:Rev. William Calbert, chaplain of the District of Columbia Buffalo Soldiers, stands next to Rev. William E. Kelly, pastor of Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church,
officiating at the burial of Ret. First Sgt. Trooper Mark Matthews, who was the oldest Buffalo Soldier. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday. He lived to be 111 years old.

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performed at burials at Arlington Cemetery when he was stationed at nearby Ft. Meyer , Virginia in the 1930’s. But when he played he had to hide at the edge of the woods behind a tree to play taps, covering for white assistants who couldn’t play. The colored soldiers could not be seen at white burials, according to Major William Greene, who wrote the book “The Real Buffalo Soldiers.” Greene devoted Chapter 12 in the book to Trooper Matthews.

At the church services earlier at Trinity AME Zion Church on 16 th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Rev. William E. Kelly, pastor, said, “Although Trooper Matthews and his compatriots suffered the harshest of segregation, he never complained. He performed his duties proudly as an American citizen, although deprived of the same privileges given white soldiers of the era.”

Trooper Matthews lived in parts of three centuries. He was born on August 7, 1894 , and lived the entire century of 1900, and the first eleven years of the 21 st Century, reaching the ripe age of 111 years. “He was the oldest citizen of this city,” Mayor Anthony Williams wrote in his tribute, which was read at the funeral.

He was blessed with excellent health, no high blood pressure, no diabetes, his kidneys functioning well, and was able to walk up until his last hospital visit three weeks before his death, according to a doctor’s report from Walter Reed Medical Center , which was displayed at his birthday party with family and friends last month. He refused to use a cane or walker, although he did “hold onto the walls or furniture when he got out of his favorite stuffed chair to go to the bathroom or climb the stairs to go to bed,” according to his daughter, Mary Watson, who was his caretaker in his later years.

Watson often told visitors, “Growing up I heard all about Pancho Villa, and the Indian guides at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, but I didn’t realize how important my daddy was in history until I heard it during history lessons at school,” Watson, his oldest daughter said.

His grandchildren remember him with tender fondness. Sheila Curry, wife of Wayne Curry, former county executive of Prince George ’s County, often recounts how her grandfather “never said a negative word about being in a segregated unit. The military was his life, and he was good at it.”

Washington Councilman Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) attended the funeral.

Trooper Matthews often talked of his earlier experiences as a Buffalo Soldier while serving on border patrol with his all-black Calvary unit when they were on the trail of the legendary bandit Pancho Villa. “I never met him, but I knew where he was,” Matthews had said. “I was on the border patrol for a good while.” He was an expert horseman and marksman. “I could outshoot just about anybody,” he often said.

In his later years in the army, he was sent to Tuskegee to train with the pilots during Tuskegee Airmen days, but he was too old by then, according to his family, and was then stationed somewhere else.

He was married to his wife, Genevieve, for 57 years. He was a good father to his five children and to the neighborhood children, as some of them reminisced at his funeral.

Greene said Trooper Matthews should have been accorded the highest honors that could be bestowed on a soldier at his funeral. “All the dignitaries should have been there to pay honor to him for the part he and his compatriots played in the making of America .”

During the Clinton years, Matthews was invited by President Bill Clinton to the White House. He was also invited to the State Department to meet Gen. Colin Powell.

At his last birthday party, the large hat of his uniform was placed on his head and the yellow kerchief placed loosely around his neck. First Sgt. Trooper Mark Matthews intuitively sat up straight, adjusted the big ten gallon hat on his head, and then repositioned the kerchief around his neck.

“He was a proud soldier to the very end,” Greene said.

To learn more about this proud black group called the Buffalo Soldiers and how they got their name, visit www.BuffaloSoldier.com.