Troop C, 9th Cavalry, at Camp Lawton, Washington, before being sent to the Philippines in 1900. T. Preiser, Special Collection, Suzzallo Library, University of Washington
Part VIII of the “Filipino Melting Pot” Series
Not much has been written about the Buffalo soldiers’ exploits in the Philippine Islands (P.I.) by American historians, except for brief passages in their roles during the Civil War, the Indian Wars, and their assignments in several national parks. Suppose you research online the Buffalo soldiers’ adventures (or misadventures) during the early days of the American occupation in the 1900s; you’ll find the National Park Service (NPS) as one of the few U.S. government agencies that documented their saga. Not too many Afro-American high school students even know that their elders’ deployment– about 6,000 of them (per P.I. oral history) — to the United States’ first colony.
Here is an excerpt from the NPS document:
“Following the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish American War in December of 1898, the United States took control of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines’ former Spanish colonies.
“Companies from the segregated Black infantry regiments reported to the Presidio of San Francisco on their way to the Philippines in early 1899. In February of that year, Filipino nationalists (Insurectos) led by Emilio Aguinaldo (the first president of the First Philippine Republic, emphasis supplied by this author) resisted the idea of American domination land began attacking U.S. troops, including the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments.
“The 9th and 10th Cavalry were sent to the Philippines as reinforcements, bringing all four Black regiments plus African-American national guardsmen into the war against the Insurectos.”
The Research of Hector Santos
My mentor in Filipino-American history was Hector Santos (now deceased). He co-founded with Victor Nebrida (a UCLA graduate with history as his primary field of concentration) the PHG (or the Philippine History Group of Los Angeles.) I joined the PHG in 1995 and left after two years. Some friends who were members of the Filipino-American National Historical Society (FANHS) recruited me, but I did not renew my membership. I went back to the PHG, which was more truthful in its presentation of Filipino-American history. And I was welcomed like a biblical “Prodigal Son.”
“Mr. Santos said that the number of Afro-American defectors rose to twenty (20). And he said that the Buffalo soldiers did not see much action, as they served mainly with the KP (Kitchen Police), did guard duties (as additional sentries), dug latrines and foxholes, and performed other mundane jobs.”
Researching the Buffalo soldiers’ exploits was Mr. Hector’s passion. He corrected my initial claim (like the NPS data) that “During the war in the Philippines, fifteen U.S. soldiers, six of them Black, would defect to Aguinaldo. One of the Black deserters, Private David Fagen, became notorious as an ‘Insurrecto Captain’ and was apparently so successful fighting American soldiers that they put a price of $600 on his head. A Filipino defector who brought Fagen’s decomposed head collected the bounty.”
Note that the NPS calls it a “war” and not an “insurrection,” as many U.S. history books tell.
Mr. Santos said that the number of Afro-American defectors rose to twenty (20). And he said that the Buffalo soldiers did not see much action, as they served mainly with the KP (Kitchen Police), did guard duties (as additional sentries), dug latrines and foxholes, and performed other mundane jobs. It was Mr. Santos who told PHG members that after they declared peace on July 4, 1902, some 1,200 Buffalo soldiers stayed behind and married Filipino brides, and each raised a family. Eventually, they sent some children to the U.S. to study and settle in the American heartland.
After “Ka Hector” (as I coined a term of endearment for him) died, nobody could locate his papers on the Buffalo soldiers. He and I planned to produce a script of a 13-part series of Christian and Muslim phases of the “Filipino-American War.”
Perhaps, we need to hire lawyers to compel the U.S. Army to produce the records about the “Filipino-American War” and authenticate the claims that more than 1,200 Buffalo soldiers left the service as civilians and got married to local brides.
“Or the American President, as the Commander-in-Chief, can order the top brass to release the needed data. Perhaps the Black Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives may like to take up the cudgel for the deceased Buffalo soldiers and their kin? And lobby The White House.
As Ka Hector said during our regular PHG meetings in Filipino coffee shops in Los Angeles, the U.S. military and the Philippine Army were always reluctant to provide more data, especially about the American defectors. After all, armies do not publicize data about their defectors. Only a suit under the “Freedom of Information Act” can compel the Pentagon to release the needed data. Of course, the Philippine military is always indebted to the U.S., which provides the bulk of foreign military aid that Uncle Sam receives.
Or the American President, as the Commander-in-Chief, can order the top brass to release the needed data. Perhaps the Black Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives may like to take up the cudgel for the deceased Buffalo soldiers and their kin? And lobby The White House.
As a satire writer, I also described in one sentence why American and Filipino historians are not enthusiastic about producing more data about the Buffalo soldiers and their exploits. And even provide more data about the “Amerasian children” that U.S. military men sired, as I mentioned in Part VI of this series. I quipped, “It is better and more-popular to write about Elizabeth Taylor than it is to report about Elizabeth Ramsey.” In case she is not familiar to readers, Ms. Ramsey was a Filipino singer and entertainer of Afro-American descent. In one way, my quip borders on the reality of racism.
What Happened to the Retired Buffalo Soldiers and Their Family Members in the PH?
According to Ka Hector, almost all were caught by Japanese soldiers and Korean conscripts in the nearly four-year occupation during WWII. And they were all killed, nay, often beheaded, by the Japanese or their Korean executioners. More often than not, their children, who presumably were descendants of color, and their mother, were also killed with the former Afro-American soldier-dad. But some of the children escaped, and probably one of them was Elizabeth Ramsey.
In any civilized criminal-justice system, they do not subject murders to the statute of limitations (or prescription periods in certain countries like the PH.) The governments of Japan and South Korea must be made to provide indemnity to the heirs. How to determine who the heirs are, requires DNA tests again. It is possible that in cases where no Filipino heir could be found (by DNA test), then the compensation can be given to the nearest U.S.-based relatives of the murdered Buffalo soldier and his family.
“Nearly 80 years have passed. Almost all Buffalo soldiers who retired in the PH met their cruel end, allegedly. Either with some or all of their family members. It is time for justice.”
There are PH records in the church’s and civil registry (of marriages, births, baptisms, and deaths) that can back up the findings (or allegations) of Hector Santos. Figuratively, the words of Mr. Santos from his grave in Los Angeles would be verified — in some cases — by the said registries in the PH.
Nearly 80 years have passed. Almost all Buffalo soldiers who retired in the PH met their cruel end, allegedly. Either with some or all of their family members. It is time for justice.
The executioners are also long dead and gone. But their respective government (in both Japan and South Korea) can answer for their war crimes. Everybody ignored these murders of thousands of Americans and their family members (who were all citizens of the U.S.). They were not mere “collateral damages,” as the Japanese military purposely looked for Americans hiding in the Philippines. They brought the Caucasian Americans to concentration camps. On the other hand, ex-Buffalo soldiers and their Afro-American children and their brown-skinned wives met their dreadful end.
Quo Vadis, Commander-in-Chief Joe Biden?