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City of Sharon honors World War II hero

City of Sharon honors World War II hero
City of Sharon honors World War II hero | Ezra Howard; Sharon, Tennessee

Sharon resident Ezra Howard (center) admires a shadowbox presented to him on Ezra Howard Day in Sharon.
It was an unusually hot day for early April, nevertheless  a 91-year-old Sharon man graciously shook hands in the Sharon library for a solid two hours Saturday afternoon as the  receiving line snaked its way at times right out onto the main street.
Young and old, Sharon residents and visitors in black leather from miles away all waited to honor Ezra Howard one of the last surviving members of the fabled Buffalo Soldiers who last fought together as a unit in World War II.
“Thank you for your service, we’re proud of you, we wouldn’t have our freedom without men like you, “ ran the litany of appreciative comments as Howard smiled and visited with each one from a couch in the center of the library.
Howard served as a young man, entering the war at eighteen, and fighting in Italy with the 364th infantry regiment  of the 92nd Division during World War II, one of the only African American units to face combat in the segregated US army of the time.
He has vivid memories of the cold mountains,  a ‘tough” General Patton, the bombed-out towns and a little dog named Pee Wee that he adopted along the way. Even going to church, though, “ I didn’t understand a word.”
The name of the soldiers dates back to the late 1800s when African American soldiers fought from frontier outposts in the West. The men they fought, the Native Americans, were said to have given them their name, the Buffalo Soldier. Although accounts differ on the exact origin of the name, it is generally agreed that it was a name of honor and respect for the African American troops who were admired for their bravery in the midst of adverse conditions. In the cold of winter, these frontier soldiers were said to have worn buffalo hides around their shoulders.
They were mounted cavalry and also fought in other military campaigns such as the Spanish American War and World War I. But, “we didn’t have horses,” says Howard of his WWII colleagues, “what we had was our feet.”
With the desegregation of the army under President Harry Truman, the designation disappeared; the Buffalo Soldier is honored today in history books and with another mounted corps that has taken on its name.
Prior to the afternoon library reception, Howard stood outside the library to see a parade of motorcycle units roar past him. Among the group was the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club sporting black and gold colors. Some wore cowboy hats or early military caps, reminiscent of the Buffalo Soldiers of old.
At least six chapters were represented from Nashville, St. Louis, Memphis, and Carbondale as well as towns in Mississippi.
The Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Club  started in 1995 in Chicago and now has 92 different chapters nationwide.
James “Top” Harbin of the Jackson chapter explained that an article in Jackson about Howard inspired the group to organize a ride to honor him. They also invited other groups including Rolling Thunder and Patriot Guard Riders. “It’s been an emotional and humbling experience, “ says Harbin, an instructor of military science at UT Martin.
Seven members of the  Sons of the Confederacy Mechanized Cavalry unit also rode in to represent Tennessee and Mississippi chapters.
The 100-200 riders who met in Jackson got a police escort to Sharon. Police officer Billy Green of Sharon, said that police from every town picked them up along the way.
The Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club presented Howard with a framed shadow box containing his medals, his buffalo patch and a photo of a young Howard in uniform. “I earned everyone of them too,” laughed an appreciative Howard.  
In an earlier presentation prior to the parade the Buffalo Soldiers MC also presented him with a history book about the soldiers. A framed proclamation from Mayor Monroe Ary proclaimed April 10,2011, Ezra Howard day.
Howard, now a  great great grandfather of nine, has many memories of his time in Italy.
General George S. Patton made a particular impression on him.  “He was tough,” remembers Howard. “ He sat us down, and told us to listen to him so we would know how to survive.”
But his sweetest memory is of a little dog he adopted in Italy but couldn’t take home because he was not allowed on the ship.
“ I carried him in my backpack in Italy,” remembers Howard. Pee Wee is featured in the picture of Howard that sits above his medals in the shadow box presented to him by the next generation of Buffalo Soldiers.
wcp 4/12/11

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