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Par Four Charities Volunteers participate in "Wreaths across America" READ MORE.....
Barrancas National Cemetery aboard Pensacola Naval Air Station is the final resting place for about 44,000 fallen military soldiers.
Nestled away in a small area of the cemetery — rows nine through 11 in sections 1 through 12, to be exact — lies a small group of 252 soldiers that largely goes unnoticed.
The United States Colored Troops (USCT) were runaway slaves who were promised freedom in exchange for fighting alongside the Union Army. Those who bravely fought for a country that didn't see them as equals are now buried in national cemeteries across the United States.
"There were 175 regiments that were created (from 1863 to 1865)," said J.D. White, recording secretary for Par Four Golf Club and Charities, and an Army veteran. "In those 175 regiments, there were 178,000 or so soldiers who actually volunteered to be members of the Union."
The USCT suffered a total of 2,751 combat casualties and 68,178 died from other causes related to battle, including being murdered by Confederate soldiers who vowed not to accept black soldiers as prisoners of war, as documented in the massacre of black Union soldiers captured at Fort Pillow, Tenn., in 1864.
White and the Par Four Golf Club and Charities, who participated in Wreaths Across America Dec. 13, were part of the masses who didn't know black civil war soldiers were buried in Barrancas. But once enlightened, the group was compelled to lay their group's wreaths on the graves.
"We couldn't blanket all 252 graves ... but we contributed what we could," White said. "These guys need to be honored and respected. It runs a whole lot deeper than just those two years they fought."
Volunteers shed light on US Colored Troops buried at Barrancas National Cemetery? Ben Twingleyemail@example.com
With all the issues surrounding race and the Emancipation Proclamation, Raymond Griff, president of Par Four Golf Club and Charities, said he believed black soldiers — particularly those who came from the North — fought out of a sense of obligation.
"It was motivation," Griff said. "It was, 'They gave me my freedom. Now they're asking me to do something so I'm going to do it.'"
Griff, who is also an Army veteran, said he overcame adversity during his service but can't imagine what the USCT went through. And while there was adversity, he'd do it again.
"If I had to do it all over again, for the love of the country — because I love America, for the love of this country — yes, I'd do it all over again. I'd do it in a split second," he said.
Regiments of the USCT buried at Barrancas include companies in the 25th, the 82nd and the 97th totaling 154 known soldiers. There are also 98 soldiers from unknown companies laid to rest.
Hundreds of volunteers from various Pensacola area organizations participated in Wreaths Across America laying 7,000 wreaths on grave sites throughout the 95-acre cemetery, and this year rows nine through 11 in sections 1 through 12 were remembered as well.