The U.S. Army's Fort Huachuca (wha-CHU-ka) is situated at the foot of the Huachuca mountains about 70 miles southeast of Tucson, roughly 30 miles south of Interstate 10 on U.S. highway 90, and a little over 10 miles north of Mexico. It was established in 1877 by Captain Samuel Whitside and two Troops of the 6th U.S. Cavalry, to serve as a base of operations for border patrols and to protect American settlers from the Chiricahua (CHEER-a-KA-wa) Apache who inhabited the region. The post has been operational continuously since it was founded and, as far as I can determine, it is the only still-active Army Fort
that is not named for a person.
The history of Ft. Huachuca is long, interesting, and impressive, and the men and women of the Army who've been stationed there have left a legacy of service to America that is second to none. I was first stationed there in 1973, then again from '79-'81, and I worked on post as a civilian from '91-'94. I met my wife there, my father-in-law retired from Civil Service there, and I was married in the old WWII-era post chapel. My stillborn son is buried in the post cemetery, as I will be. Suffice to say, my connection to the fort is strong, and I am proud to be counted among those who have served there.
Last month while visiting a friend who lives on post, I went to the cemetery to visit my son's grave. The cemetery is a beautiful, placid place, higher up in the foothills than the rest of the post, and off by itself at the end of the housing area named Bonnie Blink (which supposedly means beautiful view
in Scottish). It is also fairly old, so quite a few soldiers from the early days of the post's existence are buried there. Because their graves are at the front of the cemetery, I had to walk past them to get to where I was going, just as I've always done. This time, however, I looked more closely than I've done before at the military unit designations engraved on the headstones. What I saw was surprising.
Many people know who the Buffalo Soldiers were, but for those who do not, Wikipedia has a pretty good short summary, here
. Ft. Huachuca was one of the many western Army posts where the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed and today an eight foot bronze statue of a black cavalry soldier stands in the recently dedicated Buffalo Soldier Legacy Plaza
. The statue used to stand at the main gate, where it was placed in the mid '70s, but it was moved to its new location in early 2009.
As for the older section of the cemetery, I expected to see soldiers from the 9th or 10th Cavalry buried there, as well as soldiers from at least one of the all-black infantry units, but in-all I saw tombstones representing at least seven cavalry and eight infantry regiments, as well as artillery batteries and medical department personnel. What's more, the units named there are among the most storied in American history—it was like reading a who's who of U.S. cavalry and infantry units, and even though I wasn't familiar with the histories of each, I knew enough to be impressed.
The soldiers buried there are from the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th, and 17th Cavalry Regiments, and the 3rd, 10th, 11th, 14th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 25th, and 35th Infantry Regiments. The service records of each of these units literally fills volumes (albeit some more than others), starting with the activation of the 1st American Regiment of Infantry (later changed to the 3rd Infantry Regiment) in June 1784, followed by the activation of the 1st Regiment of Dragoons in 1833 and continuing through every U.S. war, expedition, police action, disaster response, and humanitarian service activity since. Elements of these units served with distinction in the War of 1812, on the Frontier, in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Indian wars, the Spanish American War, the Philippines, the Boxer Rebellion, WWI, Siberia, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm. Today, many of these units are serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Korea, and wherever else the U.S. Army needs cavalry and infantry 'boots on the ground.' The soldiers who've served in them have earned every American award or honor it has been possible to earn, as well as many foreign awards, and it is no exaggeration to say that the history of the United States and the world since 1784 would be very different were it not for these units and the soldiers who served in them.
In the early '70s, I was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas to the 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Bn/13th Cav (ARM) and then to the 1st Bn/7th Cav (ARM) when the 13th Cav colors were moved elsewhere. Both regiments were historical peers of the units represented in Fort Huachuca's cemetary, and elements of each served in all of the same places and wars. In the mid-'70s I was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, 1st Bn/35th Infantry, in Hawaii. We often trained with and competed against soldiers from the 14th and 21st Infantry.
Even though I was later assigned to armor, intelligence, and aviation units with very distinguished service records, I have always been interested in the old West and so I was most pleased to have been a member of the older cavalry and infantry units. Also, the history and paraphernalia of the older units I served with fascinated me, from the campaign streamers to the unit trophy cases, to the heraldry on the coats of arms and the associated distinctive unit insignia, or unit crests
, whose devices and symbols represent both the unit and its history.
For example, the 7th Cavalry crest is a horseshoe with 7 nails and an upraised saber surmounted by the motto Garryowen
(yes, it is all one word, and it is the name of a song). The 13th Cavalry crest has a sun, palm fronds, and cactus representing the desert southwest, with 6 red berries representing the number of times the unit entered Mexico, and the motto It Shall Be Done
. The 10th Cavalry crest is a brown buffalo; the 14th Infantry crest has a castle representing the capture of Manila, a dragon representing the China Relief Expedition, and the motto The Right of the Line
because of the place of honor accorded it in a post-civil war parade. The 35th Infantry, which was established in Douglas Arizona, shows a Saguaro cactus and symbols denoting the three infantry units from which its personnel were drawn (11th, 18th and 22nd). There is a great deal more if one is interested, most of which can be found at the Army Institute of Heraldry
website. The crests of the units represented in the Ft. Huachuca cemetery are below. Click on them to read their histories on Wikipedia.
As I wandered among the graves and read the headstones, and began to see the scope of the history represented here, I also began to feel the connection between those men and myself, between the past and the present, and the long tendrils of shared nationality, language, culture, and service that connect living generations to those who've passed on. It was an oddly comforting sensation—I didn't know any of the soldiers buried there, yet still, I felt like I was among family.
I also once again felt profound gratitude, not only to those soldiers, but to all of the men and women on whose shoulders our country stands, and in whose shadows I had served. As I left there, I couldn't help but be pleased at the thought of my son sharing that quiet space with those men, knowing he was lying in truly hallowed ground, and that someday I will as well.
Who could ask for better than that?
1. Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania was BRAC'd in 1998 and was then redesignated a National Guard training center, so I don't count that as a still-active Fort.
2. In order to bury my son at the Ft. Huachuca cemetery, I had to agree to be buried there as well. I'll be buried in the same grave. I can't even describe how odd it feels to stand on the very spot on Earth where I know I am going to end up—and to see a stone there already with my name on it. Very odd.
3. In 2012, I was asked by Mr. Darrel Nash, 24th Infantry Regimental Assn. Historian, to add the 24th Infantry Regiment to the list of units represented at Ft. Huachuca Cemetery. He sent me gravestone photos of four soldiers who are buried there, that he'd taken during a tour of the post in July of that year. The four soldiers were named Porter, Jones, Easley, and Grisholm. I had hoped to get back there to take pictures of my own to include in this essay, but I never did. I expect Mr. Nash has waited long enough for me to do what I promised, and for that I regret how long it has taken me. The 24th is actually almost as infamous as it is famous, and is among the few Army units known for events unrelated to military action. Even so, its soldiers have earned every award American soldiers can earn, and the unit served with distinction and valor around the world from the American West to San Juan, to the Philippines, the Pacfic Theater in WWII, Korea, and again most recently in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
4. For anyone who cares: Yes, I digitally removed the crosses from the sign over the cemetery main gate. Christians are not the only people buried there. I understand it isn't meant to be insulting, but it is. There should be a symbol for each religion represented there, or none. I prefer the latter.
- The cemetery can be found at these coordinates on Google:
- A History of the Buffalo Soldiers at Ft. Huachuca (an EXCELLENT read!)
- A Civil Engineering Paper re: Ft. Huachuca (pps 25-41 are of interest)
- The Army Institute of Heraldry
- Indian Scouts at Ft. Huachuca in 1942 (the story continued.....)
- Unit Entries in Wikipedia
1st Cavalry Regiment
2nd Cavalry Regiment
4th Cavalry Regiment
5th Cavalry Regiment
7th Cavalry Regiment
9th Cavalry Regiment
10th Cavalry Regiment
13th Cavalry Regiment
17th Cavalry Regiment
3rd Infantry Regiment
10th Infantry Regiment
11th Infantry Regiment
14th Infantry Regiment
21st Infantry Regiment
22nd Infantry Regiment
24th Infantry Regiment
25th Infantry Regiment
35th Infantry Regiment
Minor changes made to this essay on 14 & 17 Oct 09; links updated 29 Nov 10; note about the sign added 24 Jan 14; updated again on 12 Sep 16, and information about the 24th Infantry was added.
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