Buffalo Soldiers Research Museum


Trooper Lorenzo Denson, Sr.
Troop C 28th U.S. Horse Cavalry

Trooper Lorenzo Denson  In February 1999, Lorenzo Denson, Sr. responded to our letter with a telephone call. I was in the yard contemplating plans for my garden when the telephone rang. Denson wanted to help start a chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers in Cincinnati. He had a roster with 10 names of troopers in the area that had served in the 28th U.S. Horse Cavalry with him at Camp Lockett. These troopers were not members of the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Association. Trooper Denson and I had long conversations about his role as a trooper in the Cavalry at Camp Lockett and other topics such as gardening in the Midwest. He gave me advice for dealing with the squirrels that were eating my vegetables.  He said: About all you can do is let them enjoy some and you enjoy the rest.

Denson was always laid-back and at peace with the world. His attitude was positive and he always seemed to find ways to improve a situation.  Even when he told stories about his military experiences, his spin on each event made the listeners smile. Denson stated that he received a draft notice in March 1943 when he was 21 years old.  He said:

That brown government envelope changed my life forever. During those times the military draft was in full swing.

As a youth, Denson was a boy scout. His Boy Scout troop was one of the largest troops in Cincinnati and all of the members were African-American. His youthful days as a boy scout can easily translate to his days in the military. Like other young men who were drafted, their options were limited and they were used to doing what they were told.  Denson was sent to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, which was the Induction Center where soldiers were officially sworn into the military.  He told me:

I stayed at Fort Thomas for five or six days. During My time there I came home one time to say good-bye to my folks. We did not receive any military clothing at Fort Thomas.We were assigned to a troop train. There were some soldiers in military uniforms. I was in civilian clothing. We left Fort Thomas and went to Camp Lockett in Campo, California - it took two days. I had no idea I would be assigned to a horse cavalry unit. being from Cincinnati, I never expected I would be riding a horse. I was not alone. There were about 200 others in the same boat. When you were assigned a horse, you were instructed to treat this animal like your best friend. You had to feed him, groom him, wash him, and talk to him. You gave him his name. My horse’s name was Rear. I named him this for no particular reason. After a while the horse knew his name and would follow me round.  The Army policy was - we can replace troopers more quickly than horses. In most cases - they came first.

When talking with Trooper Denson, I got a clearer picture of how he and other young black men from Cincinnati, Kentucky and Indiana were drafted into the last U. S. Horse Cavalry Regiment. Other troopers contacted me and we met at my home on a Sunday afternoon. We agreed to form the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry. Later, we renamed the chapter the Heartland Chapter.

Over the years Trooper Denson and I had conversations about his life. All of the enlisted men at Camp Lockett were African American and the officers were white. The troopers from the 10th Cavalry provided training which included cavalry infantry training, close order drill (or how to march), how to fire and clean the weapons (45 caliber pistol, 03 Springfield rifle, and the M1 rifle). Troopers learned to rise at dawn and clean their horses before eating breakfast. They learned how to ride in close formation and at a full gallop in attack formation across the roughest terrain at Campo. They carried carbines and machine guns on their horses and learned how to shoot while riding a horse.

Denson told me:

This was my first time away from my home and family. Now the Army was my family. There were 30 to 40 troopers from the Cincinnati area. Now the Army was my family. I was assigned to C Troop 28th Horse Cavalry. I was a Private First Class (PFC). During training, we were instructed - If you get lost, drop your reins and the horse would take you home. The white officers treated the black troopers very well. I can’t remember any conflicts with them. My company commander was Captain Lippicott. We hand four-platoon leaders-Lt. Compton, Lt. Fitzgerald, Lt. Rodman and Lt. Blackwell. I was assigned to Lieutenant Rodman’s platoon. My job was to follow directly behind the lieutenant platoon leader. From August to November 1943, I attend Radio School and received a certificate of proficiency as a radio operator. I learned dit-dash code and Morse code.

I went to San Diego for fun. The company provided a truck to take us and bring us back. There was a trooper from Los Angeles in our troop who had a car. Sometimes we would catch a ride with him to San Diego. There was plenty of recreation at Camp Lockett. We played hardball (baseball) and our troop had a team. We also had a swimming pool at Camp Lockett. Then, all at once we where put on alert to go overseas. We started preparing to move out. We left Camp Lockett aboard a troop train and made a stop in my hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio, but I did not get a chance to get off and visit my family. We went to Newport New, Virginia and boarded a troop ship. The ship, the William Billy Mitchell, was a city on water. When we landed overseas, they loaded us in boxcars and we went to Oraun, Africa. We stayed there for a week and from there, we boarded a ship for Naples, Italy. When we got to Italy in 1944, they disbanded the Cavalry units. Some of the troopers were assigned to service units, quartermaster units, and fire fighting units. This marked the end of the U.S. horse cavalry regiments. I went to Casablanca in North Africa. It took 11 days of travel. I was assigned to the 1702nd Fire Fighting platoon. My outfit was attached to the 5th Army. Some of the troopers volunteered for combat on the front lines. The fire platoon was like a city fire department. I stayed with this unit for about a year until we were shipped out. We boarded a ship headed for Bonella in the Philippines. We didn’t know we were headed to the United States. While on the ship, they changed the orders. The war was over; it was May 1945 - a date I’ll always remember. From the time I entered the military at Fort Thomas, Kentucky until the war was over, I never received a furlough to visit my family. Some of the troopers from Cincinnati did get to visit their families before going overseas.

When Denson returned to the U.S., he was approved for a 30-day furlough. He returned home to his wife and child who were four years old. Due to pressures from the war, the marriage ended about six months later. Trooper Denson received an Honorable Discharge from the U. S. Army in November 1945.

Later, Denson continued his story. He said:

When I got out of the Army, I returned to my job at the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company. I worked there until 1948. I was laid off from that job one week after I was married for the second time. I received unemployment benefits for two months and got a job with the Board of Education where I was employed for 37 years as a power plant operator with responsibilities for the heating system. I received an Ohio State license certificate to operate heating systems. Before my retirement, I had earned the top job in this department and supervised this operation (Hicks, 1999a).

In 1991, Trooper Denson and his wife were invited to return to Camp Lockett for a reunion. His wife finally had the chance to see the place were he trained as a Buffalo Soldier.

Denson was present at the first meeting of the Heartland Chapter – Buffalo Soldiers. He volunteered to be the treasurer and kept meticulous financial records. Sometimes he would laugh at himself as he tried to count money or organize the few checks we received from our presentations. It was clear that he was determined to do a good job.

On May 10, 2004 we met with Trooper Denson and his wife of 56 years and six children. This was the first time we saw Denson since leaving Cincinnati in 2001. Denson had a pinched nerve in his back, which causes him to drag his feet. He has two metal stints to keep his feet aligned but his wife mentioned that he is off-balanced and can easily fall. He can walk with the assistance of a walker. Their home was on the market for sale. His wife is recovering from her second bout with breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in 1992 and a mastectomy was performed. This time she had a lumpectomy with radiation and chemo-treatments. She was to receive four treatments but was only able to endure three treatments. With his pinched nerve, she is committed to do all of the driving. She admitted it was a heavy load but she, too, is always positive and seems to see the bright side of every situation. They plan on moving to an apartment once their house is sold. They have lived on Maphet Ave. for 46 years and all of their children were raised there.

We viewed a video about the history of Camp Lockett that we bought during our visit to the Mountain Empire Historical Society in Campo, California. Denson enjoyed the video and his wife reminisced about their train ride when they were there in 1991. Trooper Denson wanted to see the map I had of the camp during the 1940s. He showed us the location of his barracks and the training area for Troop C. He still has many fond memories of his days as a Buffalo Soldier.       


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