STATEMENT OF D. THOMAS ROSS, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, RECREATION AND CONSERVATION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 499, TO AUTHORIZE THE AMERICAN BATTLE MONUMENTS COMMISSION TO ESTABLISH IN THE STATE OF LOUISIANA A MEMORIAL TO HONOR THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS.

JUNE 10, 2003


 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 499. This bill would authorize the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a memorial in the State of Louisiana to honor the Buffalo Soldiers.

The Department supports efforts to honor the Buffalo Soldiers. However, in order to meet the President's Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, we must continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System. As such, we cannot support the provision in S. 499 that could transfer the memorial to the National Park Service one year after establishment. The Department believes that it would be more appropriate for a memorial or monument commemorating the Buffalo Soldiers to be operated and maintained by the State of Louisiana, the City of New Orleans, or a suitable nonprofit corporation. Because of these concerns, and others raised by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Administration recommends that S. 499 not be enacted.

S. 499 authorizes the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a memorial to honor the Buffalo Soldiers on federal land in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana or its environs, or on land donated by the city or the State. The bill would require the Commission to solicit and accept contributions sufficient for the construction and maintenance of the memorial and would establish a fund in the U.S. Treasury for depositing and disbursing these contributions. One year after the establishment of the memorial, the Commission is authorized to transfer any remaining amounts in the fund and title to and responsibility for future operation and maintenance of the memorial to, at the option of the Commission, the National Park Service or another appropriate governmental agency or other entity.

Following the Civil War, Congress passed legislation to increase the size of the Regular Army. On July 28, 1866, Congress raised the number of cavalry regiments from six to ten and the number of infantry regiments from nineteen to forty-five. The legislation stipulated that two of the new cavalry regiments and four of the new infantry regiments were to be composed of black men.

In compliance with the new law, the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Regiments and the Thirty-eighth, Thirty-ninth, Fortieth, and Forty-first U. S. Infantry Regiments were organized. Three years later, when the army reduced the number of infantry regiments, these four new regiments were combined into the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry.

These regiments were composed of white officers with black enlisted men and were reportedly nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by the American Indians. Soldiers comprising the black regiments came from the former United States Colored Troops that served in the Civil War, the New Orleans area, the fringes of the southern states, or large northern cities. They were former slaves as well as freedmen.

Almost immediately after their establishment, units from these regiments were stationed throughout the West. In the countless battles and skirmishes that marked the frontier Indian Wars, the Buffalo Soldiers played a significant role. Commanded by white officers, who at times resented their duty with the black regiments, the Buffalo Soldiers endured and overcame tremendous social and environmental obstacles. They faced discrimination and sometimes received inferior supplies and equipment.

The men in these regiments often found themselves in the forefront of action. For more than twenty-five years they not only engaged in battles with American Indians, but they built forts and escorted wagon trains, mail stages and railroad crews. Mapping and charting areas and locating sources of water, they were responsible for opening millions of square miles of western lands to peaceful settlement and development.

Until recent times, the Buffalo Soldiers received little recognition for their years of service on the frontier. The record of meritorious service and notable accomplishments amassed by the Buffalo Soldier regiments remain a symbol of hope and pride for all Americans. Their achievements serve as a reminder of the contributions they made to American life and culture and are the subject of a memorial at Fort Leavenworth. We support the concept of honoring the excellent service to the nation of the Buffalo Soldiers through the existing Fort Leavenworth memorial and believe further effort to educate the public on their sacrifices is a worthy goal. We have no objection to the building of a memorial to the Buffalo Soldiers in New Orleans provided that an appropriate method of non-federal financing and constructing of such a memorial is identified and that it would be financed, operated, and maintained by the State of Louisiana, the City of New Orleans, or a suitable nonprofit corporation.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.