Sailor Nathaniel Clifford Jones Jr. was a seaman apprentice aboard the Navy battleship USS Iowa on April 19, 1989 when there was an explosion in a 16-inch gun turret. Jones, 22, was among the 47 sailors who died in the battleship blast in the Caribbean Sea near Puerto Rico.
Now the Buffalo native is among hundreds of African American military veterans – some of whom died in combat – who will be honored with a special exhibit the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library - "Remembering Deceased African American Veterans of WNY." It is designed to pay tribute to local men and women who have been identified in military records as colored, Negro, black or African American.
The exhibit lists 1,500 Buffalo veterans who participated in every United States military conflict whether they enlisted voluntarily or were drafted, creators said. They represent all five branches of the military – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Jones’ parents – Georgian Davis, a Gold Star Mother and Lawrence Davis, an army veteran who served in Vietnam and is a member of Jesse Clipper American Legion Post #430 - will attend the unveiling ceremony which will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium of the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library, said Fern E. Beavers, of The Links, Inc. – Erie County (NY) Chapter. The organization created the exhibit.
The exhibit also features some famous names from Buffalo’s past like entertainer Rick James and local personality Lance Diamond, Beavers said.
Organizers collected the names over the past three years from family members and friends as well as faith-based and community organizations. They hope the exhibit will become an educational resource that will inspire others, particularly students, to create additional history projects. Visitors are encouraged to identify familiar names and research the military legacy of the honored veterans.
“Within these names – a legacy of unyielding strength, character and endurance helped to shape this nation so that generations will recognize and own the rich history of their past,” Beavers said.
In addition, The Links organization has partnered with VA Western New York Healthcare System, Remembering Our Veterans and the Buffalo Genealogy Society of African Diaspora to add panels to the exhibit next year telling the story of the contributions that Buffalo military veterans have made.
Tuesday’s unveiling ceremony will be held at the Merriweather Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave. The McKinley High School Color Guard will participate in the program, as well as Buffalo School Board member Paulette Woods, an Army reservist for the past six years and 1st vice commander of the Jesse Clipper Post. Woods, will give the opening pray.
The keynote speaker is Harry Bradshaw Matthews, founding president of the United Sates Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research at Hartwick College in Oneonta, Beavers said. In 2011, the Institute was designated by the National Park Service as a research facility of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.