Buffalo Soldiers Research Museum


Trooper Uell Flagg
Troop C 28th U.S. Horse Cavalry

Uell Flagg attended our first meeting to establish the Heartland Chapter of the Buffalo Soldiers. He had a way of questioning everything that matched his strong opinion about everything that he did not question. He asked why the troopers wore the blue Cavalry hat when he and his fellow troopers wore the tan campaign hat during World War II.  He asked why they were visiting the trooper in Somerset, Kentucky.

Flagg became the historian for the group. He could remember dates and details much better than most men his age. He willingly spoke up at events and gave his point of view.  Here is his story.

Uell Flagg was born on November 28, 1924 and grew up in the west end of Cincinnati where a large population of African Americans lived. He was a Boy Scout in Troop 55, which was one of the largest Boy Scout troops in the United States. There were more than 300 members and all were African American. Flagg was a drummer. He stayed with the scouts for 4-5 years and earned the rank of first class. He told me that his troop were chosen to march in most of the downtown parades and often led the parades.

As a young man, Flagg was employed with the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1941-42. His job title was “Jitney Boy.” He walked from train car to train car selling sandwiches, coffee and juice to the passengers. He said:

I may have been the youngest employee on the train. This job enabled me to visit Chicago, St. Louis, New York, Pittsburgh, and other cities. I enjoyed it since I got to travel and earned tips in addition to my railroad salary. I was a member of the railroad union.

I volunteered for the U. S. Army in 1943. Like other draftees, I was send to Fort Thomas, Kentucky for processing and induction. Ft. Thomas is just a few miles south of Cincinnati across the Ohio River. We left Fort Thomas on March 18, 1943 and stopped at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis where they attached additional cars with more recruits. We arrived at Camp Lockett, California on March 23, 1943. I was assigned to Troop C, 28th Cavalry. At one time, other troopers from the Cincinnati area were in the same barracks with me; they included Cecil Howard from Madisonville, Ohio, and Linwood Greene, Jr. from Silverton, Ohio. They were assigned to the Machine Gun Platoon.

Trooper Flagg participated in 13 weeks of infantry basic training. He was a gunner; he cleaned guns and was a member of an eight-man team. This team (or squad) was responsible for three parts of the machine guns - the tripod, the receiver, and the barrel. Each squad had one machine gun. Flagg’s role was to carry the tripod and set it up for the receiver and barrel. Some members of the squad were responsible for getting the horses out of the way during this maneuver. In addition, he learned to shoot the .03 Springfield rifle and the 45-caliber pistol while riding. He also learned how to use a bayonet.

Uell Flagg
Uell Flagg, 1940s

Flagg continued his story:

When we arrived at Camp Lockett, members of the 10th Cavalry, who trained us, let us ride their horses. The horses for the 28th Cavalry arrived on Easter Sunday in 1943. Each horse was branded with a number. Our commanding officer was Captain Lippincott who was a U.S. Military Academy, West Point graduate.

In December 1943, I took a 15-day leave and returned to Cincinnati on a round trip ticket that cost $85 on the train. I was required to wear my military uniform - even while at home. The military assigned each soldier a serial number and my number was 35792421. (Currently, soldiers use their social security number.) We were required to remember this number even in your sleep. Each trooper was issued a “Solder Individual Pay Record.” We carried this record with us at all times. Each time we received our monthly pay, or any other financial transaction, it was recorded in this book. When on official leave from our home base, we could take this booklet to any military facility and be paid. While at Camp Lockett, I received $50 per month in salary. The allotment for my wife was $22; however, she actually received $80 each month. My life insurance policy premium was $6.40 each month. The life insurance policy paid $10,000 in benefits upon death. (Payroll deduction record Camp Lockett 28th Cavalry October 1st, 1943).

I was on the train with other troopers from the 28th Cavalry. We arrived in Newport News, Virginia on February 14, 1944. The group I was with received a 24-hour pass. Most of the troopers went downtown Newport News and some went to Norfolk about an hour away. One sergeant in our unit returned to Cincinnati but didn’t make it back within the 24-hour time limit. Upon return, he was busted and lost his sergeant rank. We stayed in Newport News for two weeks.

On the ship going overseas, we were packed like sardines and served only two meals each day. Some troopers were seasick. Others played cards to pass the time. When we arrived in Oraun, Algiers a riot between black and white soldiers occurred.

Trooper Flagg was separated from the other Cincinnati-based troopers and was assigned to the 523rd Port Battalion. In preparation for the invasion in southern France, Flagg went to the French Rivera. On November 27, 1944, his unit boarded a ship that had no beds and very little food. It arrived in Naples, Italy on the November 29th. On December 13th, they arrived at Leghorn, Italy; near Pisa, which is located in the northern part of Italy on the Arno River. The 92nd Division (who were all black) was there. Flagg’s unit was responsible for securing the city of Leghorn. He was shipped to Marseille, France where a German prison stockade was located.

When the war was over and the troopers were preparing to return to the U. S., the Army had devised a number system to determine who came home first. If a soldier had a wife and children, they came home before a single person. Trooper Flagg had a collection of items he had saved from his time in the military. He provided a copy of a newsletter published by members of Army personnel aboard the U.S.S. General D. E. Aultman. One newsletter article announced plans to assign 300 U.S. Navy vessels to help bring soldiers and sailors home from the Pacific. The 35,000-ton aircraft carrier Saratoga and 18 escort carriers were assigned immediately to move the troops. The War Department announced it would shift some of its air facilities from the task of returning troops from Europe and the Mediterranean to the task of returning men from the Pacific.

An article on censorship.

Censorship of all personnel mail and tele-communications has been terminated, but the Chief of Naval Operations warns that such termination does not alter individual responsibility for protection of classified material.

The current policy regarding identity, location, and movement of U.S. troops in the Pacific and Atlantic theatres is changed to permit release of all information concerning occupation operations, but identity, location and movement of occupation unit or units will remain classified until such unit or units are established in the territory being occupied, if announcement is not made earlier by competent authority.

Classified military information regarding past operations, intelligence, tactics, methods, and equipment will remain in classified status until declassified by proper authority under War and Navy Department regulations. Letters and packages no longer bear the censorship stamp, by statements attesting to personal ownership of clothing, etc. should continue to be included in packages for custom’s clearance.

The newsletter contained hand drawings and thank you notes. One drawing featured an Army soldier and sailor shaking hands saying “Goodbye and Good Luck.” A note of farewell from the Troop Commander to the men (Edgar V. Willing, Lt. Colonel) thanked the men for their service to the United States. The Captain of the ship (Edward H. Thiele, U. S. Coast Guard Commanding Officer) was featured on the front page. His remarks included:

“Au Revoir” from Captain -

Today we are nearing the end of the maiden voyage of the General Aultman after having traveled more than halfway around the earth. We have crossed the Atlantic… [and] passed through the Panama Canal together. We have crossed the Pacific, the International Date Line, and the equator together. For over six weeks we have lived on board this vessel as close together as any human beings could be without the least bit of discord. We represent all branches of the services, all races, nationalities, and creeds but still we are able to get along in harmony… This has been one of the most successful passages ever undertaken by any United States vessel.
E.H. Thiele, Captain
U.S. Coast Guard

Trooper Flagg told me that they received oral briefings on how to conduct themselves when they returned to the Unites States. He mentioned specific details about how to deal with white American women.  He arrived in the U. S. on December 18th and received an Honorable Discharge on December 30, 1945 from Camp Atterbury, Indiana near Indianapolis. He earned the American Theater Ribbon, Eame Theatre Ribbon with 3 Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Medal and the Victory Medal. (Enlisted Record and Report of Separation Honorable Discharge, December 30,1945).  Flagg returned to Cincinnati and worked in Lockland at the steel mill until 1947. He moved to Chicago and held a variety of jobs-in a steel mill on the midnight shift, as a construction worker, then as a scaffold builder. Flagg was always a card-carrying member of the AFL-CIO union, which made it easier to get jobs. In the summer of 1951, I went to the Army and Air force recruiting station in downtown Cincinnati and volunteered for military service again. Both services wanted me to join the their team. I chose the Air Force. I was sworn in on July 11, 1951. Since I had prior service experience, I was not required to attend the Air Force basic training. My first assignment was in Mobile, Alabama. I had never stayed in the south before. Race relations were very bad for blacks during those days. It was still segregated Flagg was trained to work on helicopters, props, and fixed wing aircraft. In December 1952 he departed on a ship from Corpus Christi, Texas and traveled in the Gulf of Mexico through the Panama Canal to Yokohama, Japan. From there, he went to Pussan, South Korea for 10 months. Then, he was assigned to Kisarasu, Japan. Uell Flagg received his second honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force on March 31, 1958.  Flagg retired from the postal service with more than 20 years of service and later worked for the Metro Properties Realty Company for about 10 years (Hicks, 2000a).

On May 11, 2004 we had the opportunity to revisit Trooper Flagg two years after moving to Indianapolis. He was still president of the Heartland chapter and had attended the last two national reunions. Due to his health he would not be attending this reunion at Fort Sill. We met with Flagg at his home in Cincinnati. He had loss forty pounds since he had been place on kidney dialysis. On the table where he was sitting, there were 21 medicines bottles. He had places the bottles in categories based on the number of times he must take certain pills and vitamins. His dialysis treatments are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The procedure lasted for four hours per visit but he had a positive attitude and was upbeat. He told us that it was no big deal. “ Just go there and sit for four hours then get on with your business.” He had purchased a new car last year and could drive himself to the medical facility. The troopers are still making presentations at Public Libraries and schools. Flagg was planning on making a visit at the end of May, even those there is just a few active members alive from the Heartland chapter they are still on the move. On the table with the medicine was a small book with Fred Jennings named written on the cover. Trooper Jennings was stationed at Camp Lockett with me - Fred lives two blocks from Flagg he was a packhorse driver. Flagg said-when he and other entered the military they all received small book. On the cover ‘War Department-The Adjutant General United States Army, Washington, DC.’ Flagg said-you carried this record with you at all times. Each time you received your monthly pay, or any other financial transaction, it was recorded in this book. While on official leave from your home base you could take this booklet to any military facility and be paid. Flagg said he still had his copy, he was a collector. It was great to meet with Trooper Flagg face-to-face again. Each encounter with these men gives us the will to continue our research. After serving this country in two branches of the armed forces and now in his 80s, he still wants to speak to the younger generations about the role that African Americans played in the making of America. It makes me sad to see Trooper Flagg with health concerns but I feel good that he has the right to be called a Buffalo Soldier.

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