Summary of a 1991 oral history by C. Strickland; 1996
Summary of an Interview with Colonel Reuben L. Horner, III: A Second Generation Buffalo Soldier
As we reflect on the history of the African American, we find a people who have survived overwhelming odds as a race. The struggle continues, and although prejudice and hatred are still oppressing factors, I'm encouraged by a quote I once read written by Schuller (1983) that says:
We honor these early Black American settlers, and our proud history they have left for this generation. It is hoped that through their superior courage, strength, intelligence and determination to make it, others are strengthened to carry on where they left off.
Colonel Horner was interviewed in his home on February 9, 1991. A cassette tape of the entire interview is housed at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Colonel Horner appears to be in fairly good health. He does wear a hearing aid and has had several operations to correct an inner- ear problem acquired in World War II when an explosive was set off near him causing severe damage to his right ear. He sometimes uses an oxygen tank in his home, but he is still able to drive and take care of himself. He was very cooperative, a very pleasant gentleman to speak with, very alert and intelligent.
In honor of Colonel Horner's father, Reuben L. Horner II, I'd like to briefly reflect on his history. He was one of the first Black Buffalo Soldiers and one of the first Black officers. Reuben L. Horner joined the army in 1897 at Fort Assiniboine, Montana. He fought in the Spanish American War with Theodore Roosevelt at San Juan Hill in 1898. In 1916, his regiment was called to join the expedition of General Pershing into Mexico where they chased Pancho Villa for a long time but never caught him. They fought Apaches and were engaged in activities against Geronimo and Cochise on the Arizona border.
In 1917, the beginning of World War I for the United States, Colonel Horner's father was called into the Officers Candidate School and commissioned a captain in the army which became his career. After 1924, his squadron was separated; some of the men were sent to West Point and became cavalry demonstration troops for the West Point cadets. Another section of the squadron went to Virginia and became the Presidential Guard and demonstration troops. The headquarters remained at Fort Huachuca. Reuben L. Horner II had an excellent military career and served as an outstanding role model.
Colonel Reuben L. Horner III was born in 1910, in Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont. His father met and married his mother, Isadora Nelmida, in the Philippines the prior year. Colonel Horner is an only child, and "quite spoiled," he said as he smiled. Like many military children, Colonel Horner was afforded the opportunity to travel and attend a variety of schools. His early elementary education began at Fort Huachuca in 1919, (first through sixth grade in a two-room school), where he described the education as basically excellent. He felt that they encountered no prejudice during this time, probably due to the rank of his father who was an officer. Before he finished high school, he traveled to the Philippines in 1925, and then to Bedford, Virginia; Honolulu, Hawaii; and San Francisco. Then he returned to finish high school in Nogales, Arizona. All schools appeared to have been excellent - strict, thorough, and grounded in the basics.
In Hawaii, where he completed the first two years of high school, he began his athletic career. He played football, basketball and ran track. He went "All City" in football, basketball and track. In his junior year, he attended school in San Francisco, but finished high school in Nogales, Arizona, where he went "All State" in track. He was offered a scholarship to play football at the University of Hawaii where the famous Otto Klem was coach. However, in 1930, he enrolled in the School of Education with a minor in coaching at the University of Arizona.
At the University of Arizona, he participated in track, but prejudice among his own teammates discouraged him from playing football. He said, "They were instructed to tear me apart," if he persisted in trying to play football with the team. The basketball coach allowed him to participate in the Varsity Villages -- "which was nothing but a hamburger for the basketball team." As he explained it, this "Jim Crowism caused me to develop a distrust and semi-hatred for whites because I had been sheltered in the early part of my life." This sheltering was due to his father's rank and the fact that there was no obvious prejudice on the military bases. He completed the compulsory two years of R.O.T.C. at the university. At the time he wasn't interested in the military as a career. He graduated from the university in 1934, at a time when they did not include Blacks in the yearbook.
People who greatly influenced Colonel Horner's Life, especially in his youth,were his father, who was an outstanding role model, and one of the few Black officers at the time, and the post chaplain, Carter, who offered him a spiritual and philosophical outlook on life.
He married his wife, Beatrice David, in 1934. She was also attending the University of Arizona. She had attended Tucson High School and she came from one of the traditional families of this city. They have one daughter, Donna Horner.
Right out of college, Colonel Horner took the U.S. postal examination. He became Tucson's second Black postal clerk, receiving the highest grade on the entrance examination. Hired only because of his high score, he encountered and suffered extreme prejudice and harassment while he was employed with the Postal Service. Colonel Horner worked for the Postal Service until 1940.
In 1940, the government was offering an accelerated R.O.T.C. program for college graduates. The program was called the Volunteer Officers Candidate School. His father encouraged him to sign up for this program. Colonel Horner's father felt that he could command, and his father was right. Colonel Horner entered and completed the program within six months instead of the required two years. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama. At the time the Buffalo Division was being deactivated, the 92nd Division was emerging as the "Second Generation Buffalos." Many of the members were from the original Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th cavalry. Some of them were used as leadership personnel when the new division was formed.
Colonel Horner joined this unit as it was being formed and stayed with them throughout the war. Their final training (combat maneuvers) was at Fort Huachuca with intervals in Louisiana and Texas. His unit landed in North Africa. From there the fighting moved on. They were in the assault that followed the landing in southern Italy. They fought from the boot of Italy all the way up to the Swiss border, pushing the Germans out of Italy into Switzerland. Although they had become foot soldiers, the all Black unit still wore the Buffalo patch.
Another incident involving racism that Colonel Horner spoke of took place when he was a young officer stationed at Fort Huachuca, one that he remembers "added to my attitude." The regiment he belonged to had one white company and three Negro companies. One Friday, there was an officers' call and they were waiting for K Company. The white major, who was the assistant battalion commander, looked at his watch and said to me, "Boy, run up and tell Captain Koonfield that we're waiting for him." Lieutenant Horner looked around and said, "Is the major talking to me?" "Yes, boy, run on up there and tell him we're waiting on him." Lieutenant Horner replied, "Major, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army, and as far as I know that hasn't been changed." "Now look," the major said, "don't start anything. I call all my junior officers, 'boy'." "Yes," Lieutenant Horner replied, "your Negro junior officers. Besides, you have enlisted runners whose sole purpose at this headquarters is to run your errands."
Well, as punishment for his remarks Colonel Horner was assigned B.T.O. (Battalion Trash Officer). In addition to his regular duties, he was to take a sawed-off pool cue, go through the battalion company garbage cans and make sure there were no items of government equipment thrown away by the soldiers. That lasted about two weeks since someone placed an artillery shell or mine in the incinerator. There were a lot of suspicions but that ended that duty. Other forms of punishment were just as harsh. All this was to keep him from going home nights to his wife who lived in Tucson. Every night his duties were changed and once he even had to stand outside the movie theatre to inspect soldiers' uniforms and see if buttons were fastened and ties were tied properly. The next night he was sent to the service club to see if the soldiers conducted themselves property. These are a few of the things he was put through.
Colonel Horner always speaks of never being discouraged. These incidents only made him even more determined to be the best. He wanted to dispel the attitude that Negroes were not fighters. This is one of the things that he set out to prove. So he developed a unit that was completely the opposite. The infantry units he commanded, especially within the 370th and 92nd Divisions, were the most decorated during the war. They won more Silver and Bronze Stars than any other regiment during World War II. In the Korean action he was battalion executive officer and later commander of the 1st battalion, 9th regiment.
Colonel Horner's bravery and many of the feats that he accomplished eventually gained him the respect due him. His combat record greatly improved the treatment and respect he received from the white officers.
Colonel Horner, named one of the "most decorated Blacks of World War II," has received some 29 awards including a Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star with four clusters for valor, three Purple Hearts, Infantryman Badge with star, and meritorious medals and the Army Commendation Medal. The Italian government presented him with the Military War Cross of silver and the Medal of Merit. He also received awards and citations from the governments of Korea and Thailand. A graduate of the Army's Command and General Staff College, he completed the Advanced Infantry Course, the Army Psychological Warfare School, and the Army Air-Ground Operations School. In peacetime he has held staff positions in various U.S. posts and was on the R.O.T.C. staff at Texas A & M College. Prior to his assignment as Assistant Chief of Staff G-4 to Fort Carson in 1962, Colonel Horner was infantry advisor to the Turkish First Army.
According to Colonel Horner, "Tucson today compared to Tucson of old has changed tremendously." All Blacks were segregated on the west and south side of Tucson. There were no social events for Blacks. There were a lot of places they could not go and functions they could not attend. He and eight other men formed the Beau Brummel Club (Main Street near Drachman - still an important Black Club). This social club provided entertainment for the local Black community; they brought in acts like Louis Armstrong, big bands (Black bands), various groups that might have the day before or the day after been performing at Santa Rita, or for the Pioneers.
After 21 years of active military duty, Colonel Horner retired in 1963 and became the Neighborhood Youth Corps acting projects director, a position offered to him by the Department of Labor. Three months later he was named as its administrator, heading a racially integrated staff and operating on an annual appropriation which averaged $800,000. It was an educational, job-training type of program.
The one stipulation was that his trainees were not to be given a broom, a mop, a lawnmower or a rake. They were to obtain some kind of experience or exposure to a job that they might prefer and be successful at in their adult life. For nine years Colonel Horner successfully ran this program with outstanding and extremely efficient results.
In 1974, he retired as director of the Youth Corps because of ill health due to wounds he received in the Army during World War II. (Four months before retiring, he spent four months at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington to rebuild the inside of the left ear which was destroyed by a mine explosion.) He retired very happy.
Colonel Horner proved that we as a people can do anything we want if we are determined and will not allow ourselves to be discouraged. This very thought changed the lives of many young soldiers and hundreds of youths and others he worked with over the years. Many lives have been changed because people like Colonel Horner showed us we must have respect for ourselves as a people. It is up to this generation to make things better for the next.
It is and has been an honor and a privilege to have met Colonel Reuben L. Horner III and to have worked with him on this project for the Arizona Historical Society. I want to thank him for this opportunity, his time and patience. My life is truly richer for knowing him.
Anonymous, "Medal Awarded to Reuben L. Homer at Retirement," Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph . Section C., Jan. 13, 1963.
Haynes, Martin. "'Most Decorated Negro Soldier Turns Social Worker," Arizona Daily Star . April 30, 1969.
Yiser, Jim, "Ex-Soldier Relishes Program's Success, Director of Youth Retires," Arizona Daily Star . Vol. 133, No. 305, 1, Nov. 11, 1974.
"Pima Youth Corps Gets New Administrator." Tucson Daily Citizen , July 8, 1966.