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Henry Ossian Flipper
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Military Personnel
    (March 21, 1856-May 3, 1940)
    Born in Thomasville, Georgia
    First African-American to graduate West Point (1877)
    2nd lieutenant with the 10th Cavalry, one of the all-black 'Buffalo Soldier' regiments
    First black officer to command regular troops in the US Army
    Wrote 'The Colored Cadet at West Point' (1878) and 'Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper' (published 1963)
    He wept when the 10th Cavalry moved from Fort Sill in Oklahoma to Fort Elliott in Texas (1879).
    While serving as quartermaster, he discovered $2,000 was missing, attempted to cover up the discrepancy, and lied to his commanding officer when confronted over it (1881).
    At a court martial, he was exonerated on charges of embezzlement but found guilty of 'conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman' and was dishonorably discharged.
    He was rejected when he volunteered for the Army during the Spanish-American War (1898).
    He was born into slavery.
    He graduated West Point despite ostracism and open hostility from the white cadets.
    When he was charged with embezzlement, many people thought it was a set up, and within four days fellow soldiers and local residents raised $2,000 to replace the missing funds.
    In two prior cases in which white officers had been convicted of embezzling, neither officer had been dismissed, prompting Flipper to observe, 'The crime of being a Negro was, in my case, far more heinous than deceiving the commanding officer.'
    After his dismissal, he opened a civil engineering firm in Arizona (1890), served as an advisor to the Secretary of the Interior (1921-23) and worked in Venezuela as an engineer in the oil industry (1923-31).
    An Army review board concluded his conviction and punishment were 'unduly harsh and unjust,' resulting in his dismissal being formally changed to a honorable discharge (1976).
    He received a posthumous pardon from President Bill Clinton (1999).
    He is the namesake for an award at West Point granted to cadets who exhibit 'leadership, self-discipline, and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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