Private Tomie Louis Gaines, 93, one of the last of the Buffalo Soldiers, the black Army men who helped settle the West on horseback and fought in two world wars, was laid to rest Friday at M.J. Dolly Cooper Cemetery in Anderson.
A medic during World War II, Gaines served in the 2nd Cavalry and spent time in Italy, Japan and the Philippines. He tended soldiers on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, patched wounds in a field hospital in Italy and was injured by German bombers in the aftermath of a raid.
“He was a good soldier,” said State Sen. Karl Allen, who spoke at Gaines’ funeral in Greenville Friday.
And he was also more. A longtime Nicholtown resident, Gaines was married to his wife, Clara, for 51 years. He was a dedicated member of VFW Post #6734, a former truck driver, a retired painter.
Gaines’ son, Tommy Gaines Jr., said his father also liked to box and loved getting into fights.
“When he got through fighting, he would always have his hand out,” Gaines’ son said.
Some remembered Gaines for his mustache, which turned up at the ends, and for the way he drove, which was fast.
He was a loving father and husband, a man full of energy and ideas. He never seemed to stand still and went to every Veteran’s Day ceremony he could.
Others said Gaines was a living piece of history, the last of the Buffalo Soldiers, a regiment of African-American soldiers commissioned the year after the Civil War ended.
About 500,000 black soldiers fought in World War II, according to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum — about 4 percent of the total number of deployed Americans.
“Tomie Lou represented the military,” said Lillian Brock Flemming, a Greenville councilwoman who knew Gaines as a child.
“We were just enamored with (him). He was always the same, and he never changed,” Flemming said.
Speaking at the funeral service Friday, Flemming said it wasn’t until late in his life that Gaines finally got the honors and recognition he deserved.
Those who knew him said he didn’t like talking about his military service. He would only say that war hurt, said Gaines’ godson, Jimmy Martin.
In a 2004 interview, Gaines said the war made men out of boys and left scars, above and below the surface.
“It hurts sometimes,” Gaines said in a 2013 Greenville News story. “It’s not the matter of fact of who did what, as long as it’s over with.”