Posted on: Sunday, February 4, 2007
1908-2007 William Waddell, Buffalo Soldier
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
William Henry Waddell — one of only two surviving Buffalo Soldiers — died at age 98 Tuesday evening at his home in Ka'a'awa.
Waddell, who retired in Hawai'i in 1972 with his wife Lottie, served with the 9th and 10th Cavalry in World War II.
The term "Buffalo Soldier" is one of pride that harks back to the period immediately following the Civil War when depleted Union troops were, by act of Congress, strengthened for the first time to include six regiments of black soldiers.
The term became synonymous with all black regiments that served during subsequent conflicts including the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War, after which the unit was discontinued.
But Waddell had been a trailblazer before entering the war. In 1935, he made history by becoming the first black to be granted a license to practice veterinary medicine in Pennsylvania after he passed the State Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Waddell, who was born in South Richmond, Va., in 1908, also was the first black to practice veterinary medicine in West Virginia and the first black member of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. He was further honored in 2003 as a co-founder of the historic Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine.
"I think he was a great humanitarian," said his daughter Kathryn Waddell Takara, a professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. "He had a kind heart.
"He was a terribly hard worker who came up from nothing. He's my hero."
In 2004 ,Waddell was awarded a doctor of science honorary degree from the Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
Through it all, Waddell remained a man of warmth and humor. His autobiography, "People are the Funniest Animals," was published in 1978. He also authored several other books.
"He was a grand, grand man," said retired UH professor Miles Jackson, a neighbor of Waddell's. "We all looked upon him as a sage. He had always had positive words of wisdom to share with people.
"He had a fantastic memory. We really enjoyed his company."
To those who knew him, he was an inspiration who will be greatly missed.
"The sad state of affairs is that we began February, Black History Month, with the loss of a national treasure," said Alphonso Braggs, president of Hawai'i NAACP.
"He's the reason that many of us are able to pursue our goals, our dreams and our aspirations. And right up to the end, he was still being that inspirational leader and mentor that he is very well known for.
"The irony is that at this time last year, Dr. Waddell was going around the Island bases with us celebrating Black History Month. So there's going to be that absence this year."
Yet, Braggs and Jackson both praised Waddell for giving those who follow in his footsteps the courage and motivation to continue to carry the message of inspiration and hope forward.
"We can only hope that we are able to live long enough to leave a legacy as great as what he's left us," Braggs said.
At a time when many young people are having trouble understanding the civil rights struggles of the '50s and '60s, he said Waddell's legacy stands as a beacon of light.
Already that legacy has grown. On Jan. 13 — less than a month before his death — the Honolulu Hawai'i branch of the NAACP awarded its first scholarship in Waddell's name, Braggs said.
"We really want to perpetuate what he has done. And that's one way to remind folks," Braggs said.
His wife preceded him in death. Aside from his daughter, survivors include two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Borthwick Mortuary. Burial will be Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. at the National Cemetery of the Pacific.
Reach Will Hoover at email@example.com.