Remembering the U.S. Colored Troops: Philadelphia ceremony pays tribute to veterans

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Benjamin Berry & Jake Ruser didn't know each other while they served with the United States Army. But upon returning to the Philadelphia area, they learned they fought for the same flag during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-1945.

"We started out with 133 in our members of the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Chapter," said Berry. "Today, there are only two. Jake and myself."

Berry, 98, had a chance to catch up with his old friend this morning at a special Veterans Day event. The ACES Veterans Museum organized its first annual wreath-laying ceremony to recognize the U.S. Colored Troops and Buffalo Soldiers buried at the Philadelphia National Cemetery in West Oak Lane.

Students with the JROTC at Martin Luther King High School spent their day off planting flags on the graves of soldiers included in that historic coalition. Guest speakers expressed their gratitude for all veterans and raised awareness for the U.S. Colored Troops. Three flags were placed on a commemorative wreath to recognize the past, present, and future of military service. Benjamin Berry was chosen to represent the past.

It was an honor for him to be included in an otherwise little-known piece of Philadelphia history.

"This cemetery was sort of on the back burner until one of our members got us a storyboard to tell them about the Colored Troops," he said.

The United States Colored Troops was formally created following the Emancipation Proclamation and subsequent allowance of blacks to enlist in the military. Roughly 11,000 of them trained at Camp William Penn in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. More than 1,000 are buried at Philadelphia National Cemetery.

Local historians created a database that allows anyone to search through the data for potential relatives. Their goal is to spread the word about the significant role U.S. Colored Troops played in securing our freedoms and liberties today.

"I lived in the neighborhood. I didn't know this was here," said Earl Weeks about the local cemetery. "Unless you come and take a tour or someone tells you, you won't know what's going on."

Weeks, a Marine Corps veteran, helps people learn about history as a Civil War reenactor.

"It's our job to tell our story," he said. "There's a lot of different sacrifices that veterans make that people have no knowledge of."

The ACES Veterans Museum hopes to continue recognizing the U.S. Colored Troops and all veterans through their newfound annual event and regular programming at their headquarters on Germantown Avenue.

To learn more, visit their website.

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