Ground was broken Friday at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park on the site where a future African-American Veterans Monument will be erected.
The ceremony was held beneath a tent to protect guests from a cold, snowy morning. The tent was overcrowded and some stood outside. Perhaps the most special guests of all, several local elderly African-American military veterans, sat in the front row beneath the tent and later took part in the symbolic shovel-in-dirt photo opportunity.
The forthcoming monument is a long overdue honor, said the numerous speakers lined up for the ceremony.
"Too often, the military service of African-Americans falls into obscurity," said Dr. Brenda Moore, a sociology professor at the University at Buffalo and an Army veteran. "Let us not forget that African-Americans have served in all of America's wars. Today, in Afghanistan and Iraq, African-Americans serve in large numbers."
The African-American Veterans Monument, when completed, will feature a dozen large black pillars, each representing a conflict in which African-Americans have served, dating back to the American Revoutionary War. The final design work is expected to be completed in the spring and completion, according to project chairman Warren Galloway, is hoped for by Veterans Day 2019.
A million dollars has been raised to fund the project but about $500,000 more are still sought, Galloway announced.
"We are asking for support and help in the purchasing of bricks," he explained.
Those bricks will bear the names of African-American veterans and shall be placed at the monument.
Mayor Byron Brown announced that the city would provide the money to fill any funding gaps that remained to complete the project.
Paul Woods was among the elderly African-American veterans present for the ceremony. He served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, stationed in Australia and serving under General Douglas MacArthur. He also acknowledged segregation existed among the ranks but insisted he didn't let it bother him.
"The whites would eat on this side of the mess hall and the blacks would eat on the other," he said. "But we all took réveille (wake-up) at the same time. We'd salute the flag at the same time."
By this time next year, Woods and his peers will be honored in the same place as many of their counterparts.