Jones Morgan has come a long way, from tending horses for Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders to fending off muggers on his neighborhood streets.
Morgan, 108, is believed to be the last living veteran of the Army's blacks-only regiments during the Spanish-American War.
The Indians called members of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments "Buffalo Soldiers" because of their fierce fighting spirit. Historian William H. Leckie says they were some of the most overlooked soldiers in American military history.
Morgan gets no military benefits, according to records with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Richmond. He spends nearly one-third of his $540 monthly Social Security check for his room in the home of an 80-year-old widow.
Morgan, whose age was confirmed by the Social Security Administration, said he worries about crime in his neighborhood. Three years ago, he drove off a would-be burglar with a hammer. A few months later, he was mugged near his home.
"I'm making it some sort of way," he said. "It's a little rough on me."
Morgan was born on a farm in Newberry County, S.C., on Oct. 23, 1882, the 14th of 15 children. He said he joined the 9th Cavalry in the late 1890s, tended horses for Roosevelt and cooked meals for the cavalrymen.
"The way I got in there, I was underage," Morgan said. "We were following the older boys and we ran off. We went down to Columbia, S.C.
"That's when the Army was on horses," he said. "I was in the mess hall. I cooked. I liked it pretty well. I was young then. I was ready to go. I didn't care about nothing."
He said he was not with Roosevelt's Rough Riders when they made their storied charge up San Juan Hill near Santiago, Cuba, on July 1, 1898, though the Buffalo Soldiers participated in the attack.
"Actually, the 9th Cavalry got over the hill first, but they didn't get the press," said Mike Knapp, an archivist with the military reference branch at the National Archives in Washington.
Morgan said he later served with the Buffalo Soldiers in Arizona but lost his military records and other memorabilia in a fire in 1912. The Army has no record of his service.
Knapp has been unsuccessfully scouring the Spanish-American muster rolls for some mention of Morgan. Part of the problem, he said, may be that the Army found out that he was underage.
"He would not have been kicked out, but they would have invalidated his enlistment because he was underage," Knapp said.
Record-keeping nearly a century ago was haphazard at best, especially among the black regiments, who were treated as second-class units, according to historians.
Cmdr. Carlton G. Philpot, a Navy officer who teaches at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., has been working for years to track down surviving members of the 9th and 10th cavalries. The regiments, each made up of 700 to 800 men, were among four regular black Army units created by Congress in 1866.
The first Buffalo Soldiers were used to guard the Western frontier against Indian attacks. Thirteen Medals of Honor were awarded to Buffalo Soldiers during the early campaigns.