Gen. Colin L. Powell was a one-star general at the local Army base in 1982 when he noticed that the only memorial to the black military men dubbed the Buffalo Soldiers was two gravel alleys.
So he came up with a plan for a statue to honor members of the Army units that got their nickname from the animal-skin coats they wore and their fierce fighting skills.
Powell returned to Ft. Leavenworth on Saturday to dedicate a 13-foot statue of a black soldier, rifle in hand, riding a horse.
During the dedication ceremony, he called himself a "spiritual descendant" of the Buffalo Soldiers.
"I know where I came from," Powell said. "I stand before you, the first African-American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and deeply mindful of the debt I owe to those who went before me."
The Buffalo Soldiers, organized at Ft. Leavenworth in the 1860s, guarded the Western frontier against Indian attacks and also served in such campaigns as the Spanish-American War, the Philippine insurrection, World War II and the Korean War. The Indians gave them their nickname.
But contributions of the group are not mentioned in many history books.
These "brave soldiers went back to slavery, real or economic, consigned there by hate, prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. They lived with a bitter lie," Powell told about 12,000 people who attended the dedication Saturday.
The Buffalo Soldiers' old units were integrated in 1952, bringing the storied group to an end. But about 100 surviving members were at the ceremonies.
The survivors include 109-year-old Jones Morgan of Richmond, Va., who was 15 when he joined the 9th Cavalry. He watched as Buffalo Soldier units joined Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in their charge up Cuba's San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898.
Morgan was too exhausted by Saturday's ceremonies to grant an interview afterward, but 74-year-old former Buffalo Soldier Bill Winters said the old soldier had a great day.
"He's terrifically impressed with all the attention he's been getting. . . ." Winters said of Morgan. "This is a dream come true for all of us."