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100 years a Buffalo Soldier

South Boston News
Ray Shelton and Grace Baptist Church pastor, Jack Stewart performing “Unforgettable” Saturday during Shelton’s 100th birthday celebration. (Susan Kyte photo) / August 25, 2014
South Boston resident Raymond Shelton celebrated a milestone many of us may never reach. On Aug. 20, Ray Shelton turned 100.

On Friday night, at Grace Baptist Church in Virgilina, he was honored, not just for reaching the century mark, but more for the way he has lived his life over the past century. Celebrating with him were friends from church, the community, the Clarksville Buffalo Soldier and Troopers Motorcycle Club – who made him an honorary member - and several dignitaries, including South Boston Mayor Edward Owens, Halifax County Board of Supervisors member W. Bryant Claiborne, Bruce Robinson, Ret. Commanding General of the 98th Div., U.S. Army, and Gayle Barts on behalf of Rep. Robert Hurt.

Of late, much has been written of Sheton’s exploits as a Buffalo Soldier – not the motorcycle club but the 92nd Infantry, which was a part of the 5th Army that served in the Italian Theater during World War II. It was also the only all-black infantry unit, or, as they were referred to at the time, colored troops, to see combat in Europe.

During their time in Italy, the men of the 92nd Infantry advanced more than 3,200 miles and captured more than 20,000 German prisoners. They also suffered heavy casualties – with more than a quarter of the unit killed or wounded in action. For their heroism, these men earned more than 12,000 decorations and citations – including two Medals of Honor.

But, it is what he has done since his days as a soldier and in particular the last few years that made Friday’s celebration all the more special.

Nearly every day, Ray Shelton joins a cadre of friends for breakfast at the local Hardees on Wilborn Avenue in South Boston, before driving off to entertain the residents at the local senior centers and assisted living facilities in the area. In his spare time, he performs with the choir of Ebenzer CME. And yes, Shelton still drives himself around town.

Before Shelton was, as he says, “invited” to see Italy by his “Uncle Sam,” he was an accomplished jazz pianist in New York. Though the band broke up after Shelton left on his tour of duty, he never lost his love of music. The maestro – the name given to him by those who have heard him play – still shares his love of music and his talent with anyone willing to listen.

He believes it is what keeps him young, or at least young at heart.

Even though it was his party, Shelton did not disappoint his many fans, He opened the event with a beautiful rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.” Grace Baptist Church pastor Jack Stewart added his vocals to a truly unforgettable performance.

This man who has experienced segregation, racism – though he says not to the extent of many – has won the battle with cancer twice, and lost both his wife and son, remains upbeat.

When asked how he endures, he said, “It is your ability that propels you in this world, but it is your integrity that keeps you there.”

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