by Robert Brum, email@example.com
First he served in the U.S. Army. Then he served in God’s Army.
For his contributions to both as well as to his community as a whole, the Rev. Weldon McWilliams Jr., longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Spring Valley, was presented Rockland’s 2017 Buffalo Soldier Award on Wednesday.
“I’m still in the service, and I thank God for the opportunity,” Williams said just before a ceremony attended by several dozen people at the Rockland Fire Training Center in Ramapo. “I’m surprised but I thank them for this honor and I hope I live up to it.”
McWilliams was stationed in Germany — with the Army from 1960 to 1962 — when he received his calling for the ministry. It’s a calling answered by his father and grandfather before him. He has been First Baptist Church’s pastor for 45 years, and now serves with his son, the Rev. Weldon McWilliams IV.
“Working with people is good,” he said. “You’ve got to love the people and I thank God for leading me to the First Baptist Church. I just pray that I live up to what people expect of me.”
For the past 25 years, the award has been presented annually to an outstanding African-American veteran in Rockland County. Several past recipients were in the audience Wednesday as McWilliams accepted the award from County Executive Ed Day.
Day said McWilliams exemplified the heroism and selflessness the award represents.
“His work extends beyond the walls of his church,” Day told the audience. “He organized the Rockland County Ministers Alliance, which celebrates its 34th anniversary this year.”
In December 2001, McWilliams was one of the first recipients of the Rockland County NAACP Image Award.
Anngela Vasser-Cooper, an Army veteran and founder and CEO of Women Veterans Association of the Hudson Valley, called McWilliams “a man of distinction and integrity.”
“You have demonstrated throughout your years of service courage, wisdom, commitment, love, and kindness to your country, to your community and your people in your words, your actions and your spirit,” Vasser-Cooper said.
The award is named for the soldiers of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, which was organized as an all-black unit in 1866. The soldiers earned fame fighting the American Indians on the Western frontier. The unit, in various forms and later integrated, also served in World War I, World War II and Vietnam.