After nearly three-quarters of a century, Cpl. Isaiah Mays, a member of a legendary Black fighting unit and Medal of Honor recipient, can rest with dignity.
On Friday, a group of African-American veterans, U.S. Army soldiers and those who traveled by motorcycle from faraway places like Arizona and California, paid their respects as the brave Buffalo Soldier received a long-overdue hero’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Born a slave in Virginia in 1858, Mays headed West at an early age and joined the famed Buffalo Soldiers and fought in the frontier Indian Wars. In 1889, he was deployed to guard a wagonload of Army gold. He and his brigade were ambushed, and most of them were either killed or seriously wounded. The bandits escaped with nearly $30,000 in gold coins. Mays himself was shot in both legs but managed to crawl for two miles to a ranch for help.
The following year, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for bravery. When Mays applied for a federal pension in 1893, he was denied. Instead, he was committed to an Arizona state hospital for the mentally ill and indigent. After his death in 1925, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the hospital cemetery.
After several years, some members of the hospital staff located his grave and arranged for a formal ceremony on Memorial Day 2001. On Friday, those paying their respects included William McCurtis, a regimental sergeant major of the Buffalo Soldier group.
"One more out of 6,000 has his day of recognition,” he said during the ceremony. “We need to get the rest recognized."