When 101-year-old Grand Hampton resident Roy Caldwood was a member of the Buffalo Soldiers, also known then as the U.S. Army’s 92nd Infantry Division, they were the only all-African-American division permitted to be combat troops in World War II (WWII). The Buffalo Soldiers helped liberate Italy near the end of the war.
Today, the Buffalo Soldiers motorcycle club still honors the memory of that famous combat division. In most cases, the Buffalo Soldiers are honoring the memory of those American soldiers, but in the case of Roy Caldwood, the Tampa Chapter of the motorcycle group was on hand to honor one of the few surviving WWII Buffalo Soldiers at Grace Episcopal Church in Tampa Palms on Aug. 13.
The event, which was organized by the motorcycle club and Grace member Euri Jones, Caldwood’s daughter (and Grace member) Diane Royer and City of Tampa District 7 Councilman Luis Viera (who says he first saw Roy at the city’s Juneteenth celebration on June 19), was an amazing day for Caldwood, who looks nowhere near his centenarian age. Those of us in attendance were told that Caldwood, who says he actually can still do ”somewhere between 30-40 push-ups” at once, might have been willing to do 20 push-ups at the event, which started outside of Grace in nearly 100º heat before moving indoors for a ceremony led by Viera and Grace Priest Father Benjamin Twinaamani. Roy and Diane later agreed that no pushups would be performed on this day.
Caldwood, already a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal — which is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces for “either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone” — was honored by the Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers Motorcycle Club Tampa Chapter at the Grace event with a plaque thanking him, “for your dedication to duty and service to this great nation as Buffalo Soldiers in WWII.”
The Orlando chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers and Troopers also were invited on stage to join the Tampa club during the special ceremony.
But clearly, this day was all about a man who has achieved much more than just a long life. Viera called him a “bonafide American hero in WWII. When the Axis powers were threatening democracy and freedom all over the world, young men of 18 and 19, like Roy Caldwood, raised their hands and volunteered to fight for our great country.”
Viera also noted that even though heroes like Roy Caldwood were celebrated overseas for liberating Europe, because the Buffalo Soldiers were Black, they didn’t find the same respect and admiration when they returned home.
“But, men like Roy Caldwood,” Viera said, “nor only fought overseas, they came home to America to fight for that same dignity and respect here at home.”
Viera then thanked the Buffalo Soldiers for not only honoring Roy, but also for all of the good the group does in the community.
“I don’t really know if this honor is deserved,” Roy said after being introduced by Viera. “I just did what came naturally. I just wanted to do my best to help.”
He said that his division chased the Germans for four months in Italy and was told, “They will kill us all. But instead, after those four months, they all came down and surrendered peacefully.”
Roy then said that even though he didn’t think he deserved to be so honored, he would accept it and thanked everyone in attendance for making it happen.
Viera then took the microphone back from Roy and noted that heroic people in the military and first responders in our cities, counties and states often say the same thing, “We’re not heroes, we’re just doing our jobs. But Roy, you truly are a hero.”
Viera then introduced the Buffalo Soldiers and their member “Duba-D,” who said that the group was so appreciative of being able to honor Roy because, “His story is our history. People who are heroes are so often also humble. They find it difficult to accept accolades for what they’ve done.”
But, Duba-D also added, “A lot of people think that the Buffalo Soldiers today are just a motorcycle club, but we’re actually much more than that. What we do is represent the original Buffalo Soldiers.”
He added that it was back in 1866 when the first African-Americans were permitted to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. “And, those became the first Buffalo Soldiers,” he said, “who fought in some of the first foreign wars. Wherever they went, the Buffalo Soldiers were given the worst equipment, the worst training, the worst leadership, but they persevered and found a way to prepare. That type of grit is special.”
He also noted that Roy’s unit was the only unit of African-American soldiers to serve in Europe, “and they were responsible for the liberation of Italy. The country he went to go fight received him and his unit better than the country he left and then returned home to after.”
Duba-D also mentioned that Roy is a published author who was a New York City Dept. of Corrections Assistant Deputy Warden at Rikers Island when he was taken hostage (and became a hostage negotiator) during one of the prison’s infamous riots. The book is called Making the Right Moves: Rikers Island & NYC Corrections.
Following the plaque presentation, Roy thanked Euri Jones and Councilman Viera. He said that “Euri brought the matches but Councilman Viera started the fire.”
Roy also noted that he had received an Honor Flight on Apr. 25 and that he, “shook hundreds of hands that day, but I paid the price for it. The next day, I couldn’t lift any weights or do any push-ups. Shaking two or three hands is no big deal, but 200-300?”
And finally, this true American hero again thanked everyone for coming, but added, “You have built me a pedestal so high that I would need a helicopter to get me up on it.”
Roy also recalled when he first met Viera a couple of months ago. “I was getting out of the barber’s chair and there’s this guy on both knees saying how honored he was to finally meet me. I told him, ‘Get up. This isn’t church,’ but all he wanted to know was how he could get in touch with me. I told him that I would be happy to sit down with him, not just to talk, but to listen to him tell me about what the problems are in this city. I like to listen and then I like to come up with answers. I want to help you help us,” he told Viera, “and get me down off this pedestal you’ve put me on. Thank you all again!”
Viera closed the event by quoting former President Barack Obama: “There is a lot that’s right about America and it can help cure what is wrong with America.” He then turned to Roy and said, “And this man’s life is all about what’s right about America.”
The councilman then asked all of the other military veterans in attendance to rise, raise their hands and receive a round of applause. “These are the people, like Roy, who told Uncle Sam that they are willing to do whatever it takes, up to giving their lives, to protect this great country.”