Archive for Thursday, April 5, 2007

Fort dedicates bronze bust to groundbreaking lieutenant

April 5, 2007

A bronze bust of Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, the first black to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy, has taken up residence at Fort Leavenworth, next to the post's famed Buffalo Soldier monument.

The dedication of Flipper's bust took place Friday, March 30. Dedication ceremonies originally were to be held at the Buffalo Soldier monument but were moved inside because of rain.

Despite the rain, Flipper's family members, friends and guests filled the seats in the nearby Lewis and Clark Center at the post. There was only standing room when the ceremony began.

Brigadier Gen. Mark E. O'Neill, deputy commandant of the Army Command and General Staff College, opened the ceremony by noting the dedication was the first public event in the Lewis and Clark Center.

"We thought this was a fitting place to commemorate the circle of firsts," O'Neill said.

The circle of firsts celebrates the achievements of black soldiers who have served their nation.

O'Neill said dedicating the bust in the center was fitting because attendees were celebrating Flipper, a man who accomplished many firsts, in the center's first ceremony.

Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, commandant of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, told of Flipper's history.

While Flipper was not the first black at West Point, he was the first to graduate, back in 1877, Hagenbeck said.

In 1881, Lt. Flipper was accused of embezzling funds and of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen, by his commanding officer. Although he was acquitted of the embezzlement charges, he was found guilty "of conduct unbecoming an officer."

Outside of the Army, Flipper was successful. Among the positions he held were special agent of the Justice Department, aide to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and authority on Mexican land and mining law.

When Flipper died, his family kept working to clear his record. In 1976, 99 years after he graduated from West Point, the Army granted Flipper an honorable discharge. In 1999, President Clinton gave Flipper a full pardon.

Hagenbeck talked about Flipper's legacy and how it continues to encourage other blacks who served after him.

Flipper's actions and strength "echoes through the actions of all African-American men and women who have worn the cadet beret and who have served our nation," Hagenbeck said.

Flipper should be honored for his strength and legacy, and tribute should be paid to "the ever growing legacy of African-American military service that stands for quality, respect, honor and character," Hagenbeck said.

After the ceremony, a reception took place for attendees. Then, Flipper's family went to the Buffalo Soldier Monument to view the bust.

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