CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — A Western New York veteran is making it one of his life's missions to bring attention to fellow servicemen past and present, to make sure no veteran is forgotten.
His latest focus is honoring Jesse Clipper, who was the first African-American soldier from Buffalo to die in World War I.
Drafted in 1958, Reverend Eugene Pierce, known as private at the time, set off for Fort Hood, Texas to attend basic training.
In his quest to serve our nation, the Mississippi native even shared a few weeks with a rock n' roll legend.
"I was surprised to see the person standing next to me. When I said Private Pierce, he said Private Presley. Looked over, and yes that was Elvis Presley, and we stayed together for eight weeks. What was ironic as Elvis' hometown was Tupelo, Mississippi an he had relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. My hometown is Laurel, Mississippi and I had relocated to Buffalo," Reverend Eugene Pierce said.
Along the way, his first overseas assignment was in Germany, where the late Colin Powell was one of his company commanders.
"After we completed training in Fort Hood, Texas, we were assigned to units in Germany," Eugene said. "At that time, Collin Powell had just graduated from the State College of NY ROTC program, where he was commissioned a second lieutenant but when he got to Germany, again his first assignment was a second lieutenant. I didn't realize the magnitude of Collin Powell and the time that I spent under his command."
After completing his three years in Germany, Pierce was assigned to the post-arcade at Fort Polk, Louisiana, as the confinement sergeant.
"That was my first involvement with confinement. I realized the importance of treating people like you want to be treated. I was not there to punish but to make an individual aware of their wrongdoing and when they leave confinement, they would be better off than when they arrived," he said.
Reverend Pierce met a lot of other impressive people, but one he never met Jesse Clipper. The Buffalo native was the first Black veteran to sacrifice his life, during WWI.
Jesse Clipper also formed the Colored Musician Local 533," he explained. "He was an entertainer. He volunteered for military service in 1917. Two years later, he died of his injuries from the war. He's buried in the Bacardi region of France."
Reverend Pierce spent 18 and a half years in the army, until he was honorably discharged as sergeant first class E7.
"The abilities to generate community support begins with the military, and in my case, the American Legion. After, completing whatever duties I have as a commander, I come home and it's wonderful to be able to come home with good neighbors," Pierce said.
Commander Pierce has continued to serve in the American Legion Jesse Clipper Post No. 430, was and was the driving force in the monument's spelling correction of Jesse's name from J-e-s-s-i-e to J-e-s-s-e.
The monument was built in 1936 but only corrected in 2013. It can found at Michigan and William Streets, in Buffalo
Continuing to honor veterans is important to pierce.
"There's an emphasis on youth activities, community activities. The American Legion is responsible, and I say it strongly responsible with military honors for those that died, that were killed in battle," he said.
Service and sacrifice: It is a mantra pierce hopes is never forgotten.
The Jesse Clipper Post No. 430 meets at Gospel Temple Church of God in Christ at 143 Beard Ave, Buffalo, NY 14214. In the meantime, the Post needs the donation of a building. Anyone interested in donating can contact Rev. Eugene Pierce with anyone who can assist the Post with a facility via email at email@example.com.