Captain Readic Comer
First African American Captain From Missouri
During the Civil War, 220,000 African American soldiers enlisted to fight for the Union. After fighting in the war, the all black 10th Cavalry would continue fighting the Apaches during the 1870s and 1880s and even chase Pancho Villa south of the border during the Wilson administration. Comer, who joined the service at 18 year’s old against his mother’s wishes, would serve our country in the 10th cavalry during both World Wars. Harry S. Truman awarded Comer the rank of Captain as he became the first African American Captain from Missouri.
Born in Macon, Georgia 6 years prior to the turn of the 20th century, Readic Comer enlisted into the army during August of 1913 while he was 18 years old. Comer was immediately assigned to the troop M of the all-black 10th Calvary and sent to Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont about a month later. Comer would be quickly be reassigned (and paid $15 a month) to the extremely honorable position of serving as the personal security guard for General John J. Pershing while stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
While Woodrow Wilson was president and after the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa raided the American City of Columbus, New Mexico, Comer was sent south of the border with Pershing on a manhunt which lasted 11 months during 1916. Going as far south as Mexico City, the search and seizure was a dreaded conquest which ended up empty handed. While trekking through the hot, sweltering country, eating tomatoes in an attempt to replace fluids, the Government of Mexico limited the search for Villa to outside city limits giving Villa plenty of secure hiding places with the help of loyal townspeople.
In an attempt to describe the lack of food eaten by the soldiers while in Mexico, the flamboyant Comer would later remark on his adventure:
- “We were starving to death most of the time. All we had to eat were tomatoes and hard tack, which is biscuits made from flower and water and some of them were as old as 1905.”
- “One time we caught a jackrabbit and started a fire with some flint rocks and that was the best meal I’ve ever eaten. I’ll never eat jackrabbit again because it doesn’t taste the same.”
Snakes at Night
Keeping rattlesnakes away at night was a different matter. Soldiers would steady their saddles down on the rugged terrain and use them for pillows while they would place a rope around their body in an attempt to frighten away any daring serpents. Comer explains:
“The rope didn’t always work and if you saw a blanket fly in the morning, you could be sure there was a rattlesnake under it.”
Nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Indians because of the darker skin and tremendous work ethic, African American soldiers like Comer accepted this title as a badge of honor since buffaloes were highly respected by the Indians. Many of these soldiers (also called Black White Men by the Indians) were either ex-slaves, army veterans, or freemen looking west who had joined the army believing that the frontier military life could provide a better life than living east of the Mississippi. In later years, Comer even referred to himself as “a fading Buffalo soldier, veteran ,veteran” which placed emphasis on his military duty as a Buffalo soldier first and a war veteran second. Few people know that around 20 percent of the Calvary who had fought in the Indian Wars were black and many gave valiant efforts in the Cheyenne Indian War, Red River War, Ute War, Apache War, Sioux War, and numerous others. The 10th Cavalry that Comer served in was established upon the completion of the Civil War in 1866.
Readic Comer, proudly served our nation in both world wars including two tours of duty in the Phillipines under General Douglass MacArthur and Jonathon Wainright. After 30 years of service, he could have retired in 1943 but delayed his retirement since America was in the middle of World War II. Readic Comer received the rank of Captain from President Harry S. Truman while becoming the first African American in the state of Missouri to attain the rank of Captain.
While retired, Comer was an active participant in Warrensburg events as he led Boy Scout troops and had hobbies that included electrician, plumber, builder, reader, and especially an enthusiastic storyteller. Readic Comer passed away in 1988 at 94 years young. His gravestone may be viewed at Sunset Hill Cemetery lying next to his wife Maybelle Comer who both have crosses engraved into their stone. Readic was buried wearing his uniform while his wide brimmed military hat sat delicately on his chest. Today, people may take one last look into the focused eyes of this military leader at the Mary Miller Smiser Heritage Library. Here hangs an elaborate oil painting portrait dedicated to Comer’s years of distinguished service and to the legend our local American Hero.