The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Monday, August 31, 2015

Buffalo Soldiers

Richard's "Alma Mater"

One of the great things about sharing a hunting blind, or hide as it is called in South Africa, is the opportunity to engage in conversation and learn. You can learn about hunting, natural history, game management, animal behavior, shot placement or most important, and generally more fascinating, about the person that you are sharing the blind with.

Over long hours of conversation, several times interrupted by the appearance of game animals when we had to be quiet, Richard told me about his military service, when for some time he served with the prestigious and highly decorated 32 Batallion, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

The South African Buffalo Soldiers had one similarity with the American West Buffalo Soldiers: the soldiers were black (either black African's Angolans or African-Americans) and the officers and majority of Non-Commissioned Officers were white (I am even going to try to discuss all the possible geographical or cultural backgrounds of contemporary caucasians, but let's say there were a fair number of South African and former Portuguese Army soldiers).

The (South African) Buffalo Soldiers had their origin in South Africa's involvement in the Angolan Civil War and was originally formed by cadres from the dying FNLA (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola) who at the time were fighting both FAPLA (Forças Armadas Para Libertação de Angola) and UNITA (União Nacional para Independência Total de Angola) and eventually became a de-facto South Africa foreign legion.

Richard background is artillery and while in the 32 Battalion he served with a Valkarie 127mm Multiple Rocket Launcher (MRLs) battery, and the way he described to me is that they were in loan from South Africa to Jonas Savimbi (the head of UNITA), and in order to disguise South African involvement they did not use any identification, not even a dog tag. The only way to identify a casualty or fatality was by a serial number in the inner side of their belts.

Anyhow, the Buffalo Soldiers were based at the very remote Buffalo Base (therefore their name), and they really thought that Jimi Hendrix's Buffalo Soldier was composed for them (and not the others, a century earlier and ten thousand miles away), so before a deployment Buffalo Soldier (the music) was played over the base PA system to motivate the soldier, who in large numbers also used other means to build up their courage for battle!

On my way back home at the OR Tambo Johannesburg International Airport I came across the book by Colonel Jan Breytenbach, first commander of 32 Battalion, and I had to read it, if for no better reason than to understand the stories that Richard told me. The book is passionately written, and independent of one's background or political views a couple points cannot be contested: individual soldiers are capable of immesurable acts of heroism and, battles are won by warriors in the field and wars are lost by politicians.

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