Fighting to honor nation’s buffalo soldiers

James Nelson in now two years into what he calls a “magnificent mission.”

The military veteran is using his personal income in hopes of providing the ultimate honor to a pair of buffalo soldier Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. In tandem with that goal, Nelson hopes to honor all U.S. military chaplains, as well as all veterans, men and woman, past and present.

At the center of Nelson’s drive are Emanuel Stance and Moses Williams. Both served on the American frontier in the later part of the 19th century and both distinguished themselves in battle. Stance was laid to rest in Nebraska and Williams in buried in Vancouver, Wash., both spending eternity in military cemeteries.

But Nelson wants more for the two. He wants to exhume their remains, place them in new coffins and have them buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Not coincidentally, both Stance and Williams were African Americans. Nelson sees his mission as part of a process that could help heal some of the racial tensions that have erupted recently across the nation.

He would like to travel across the country with the remains of the buffalo soldiers, hosting memorial services at churches and military chapels along a winding route that would eventually end at Arlington.

The effort, Nelson figures, will cost somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000.

During his ongoing campaign, Nelson has experienced highs and lows. A high point came after he enlisted the help of U.S. Congressman Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Smith introduced legislation that has furthered Nelson’s cause.

But there are stumbling blocks as well. Primarily, there are many who sit in important positions and believe the buffalo soldiers are being properly honored because their remains are in military cemeteries.

Nelson vehemently disagrees. National cemeteries scattered around the country aren’t the same as Arlington, he believes. He ramps up his argument with the statement that Stance and Williams – and all buffalo soldiers – have been slighted for more than a century due to the color of their skin.“Buffalo soldier” was the name given to all-black regiments in the U.S. Army, formed following the Civil War.

Nelson resides in Bellevue, but has taken his cause to Enumclaw and Sumner. He provides “guest guides” for two hotels in Enumclaw and one in Sumner, selling advertising and filling the rest of the space with lists of services and activities in the region. This year, Nelson is directing his commissions to his mission.

He’s hoping others will share his dream of seeing the two buffalo soldiers’ remains transferred to Arlington National Cemetery and, in a show of support, purchase space in the hotel guides.Anyone interested in Nelson’s mission can reach him at 425-747-2888 or 425-890-2918.