West Point honors Henry O. Flipper with annual banquet

Story and photos by Kathy Eastwood Staff Writer

February 15th, 2018 | News, News and Features
 A Flipper descendant, Ken Davis, presents the Henry O. Flipper Award to Class of 2018 Cadet Louis Weierbach-Chainey at the annual Flipper Dinner Feb. 8 at Washington Hall. The Flipper award is presented to a first class cadet that has undergone adversity in his or her cadet career.
 Retired Maj. Gen. Roger R. Blunt, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1956 graduate, was the guest speaker at the 41st annual Henry O. Flipper Dinner Feb. 8 at Washington Hall. After an active career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that included an assignment as USMA faculty, Blunt continued his service in the U.S. Army Reserve. His final assignment was his command of the 12,000-member 97th Army Reserve Command headquartered at Fort George G. Meade, Md.  Blunt presently serves as a director of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and chairs the Board of Directors of the University of Maryland Foundation.

The U.S. Corps of Cadets honored Henry Ossian Flipper at an annual banquet Feb. 8 at Washington Hall to commemorate the life of the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy in 1877.
The guest speaker for the banquet was retired Maj. Gen. Roger R. Blunt, USMA Class of 1956.
During his harrowing experience at the academy, Flipper was ostracized, shunned, endured racist discrimination and was often alone during his career as a cadet.
Despite suffering through discrimination, Flipper excelled as a cadet, especially in engineering, law, French and Spanish. Flipper went on to become the first African-American officer in the U.S. Army to command African-American troops when he received an appointment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma to lead Troop A, 10th Calvary Regiment, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Until Flipper’s appointment, all African-American troops had been commanded by white officers.
Just three years into his military career, Flipper’s military service came to a halt when in November 1881, he was falsely accused by his  commanding officer of embezzling $3,791.77 from the commissary funds.
Although a court martial acquitted him of the charges, he was dishonorably discharged in 1882.
In 1976, it was confirmed that white officers had framed Flipper. President Bill Clinton posthumously granted Flipper an honorable discharge in 1999.
On the 100th anniversary of his graduation, West Point unveiled a bust of Flipper to honor him as a distinguished graduate and the U.S. Corps of Cadets honored him with a banquet and presentation of an award to a first class cadet that has experienced adversity and hardship during his or her cadet career and the tradition still holds today.
The banquet included a short video of the life of Flipper, filmed by the History Department, with cadets giving short excerpts of Flipper’s cadet and Army career.
Guest speaker Blunt enlisted in the Army before coming to West Point and commissioning into the Engineers. After a rather active career in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that included an assignment on the faculty of the USMA, Blunt continued his service in the U.S. Army Reserve. His final assignment before retiring in 1986 was commander of the 12,000-member 97th Army Reserve Command headquartered at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. Blunt received the Distinguished Service Medal at his retirement.
“I grew up in a small town,” Blunt said. “And I am saying to you, as people living in a small town, we didn’t have many of us of color, and prejudice and discrimination displayed itself.”
Blunt talked about some African-American friends he had while in the Army as an enlisted Soldier where color had affected them in their professional Army and civilian careers.
“I remember one guy in the Army, Ralph Sterling Cunningham Jr, from Atlanta,” Blunt said. “His skin was lighter than mine, but he always talked about the south rising again. After the Army, he clerked for a Supreme Court Justice and soon left there to join a law firm. But he was never able to reach partnership level and it changed his life, and, unfortunately, he didn’t last very long.
“Prejudice has been around for a long, long time. I was lucky because there were a number of influences I had. My parents for one, and that was very, very important, they nurtured me and my dreams,” he added.
Blunt described what it was like at West Point after getting on buses from the then Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh to West Point and being the 51st person on that bus with only 50 slots available at West Point.
“The buses lined up to go to West Point and someone came up to me and asked, “Blunt, do you want to go to West Point?” I said yes and then he told me to get on the bus. I felt very lucky because the West Point experience changed my life.”
Class of 2018 Cadet Louis Weierbach-Chainey, Company C-2, was presented the Henry O. Flipper Award. The citation reads: “For demonstrating qualities of leadership in the face of adversity and excelling as a cadet at the USMA. Weierbach-Chainey faced tremendous challenges during his journey to the academy. Weierbach-Chainey has wrestled with gang violence, family criminal activity, family illness, homelessness and prejudice throughout his journey to this moment at the academy. Cadet Louis Weierbach-Chainey exemplifies Henry O. Flipper’s legacy of overcoming adversity during his journey toward becoming a commissioned officer, and serves as a role model to many.”
Presenting the award was Ken Davis, a member of the Flipper family, with the Commandant of the U.S. Corps of Cadets Brig. Gen. Steven Gilland and Command Sgt. Major Thomas Kenny, Blunt and Class of 2018 Cadet Captain Simone Askew.