HOPE MILLS -- The choir soulfully sang "I'll Fly Away" at the end of the funeral for Edward L. Posey, one of a dwindling number of military pioneers known as the "Buffalo Rangers."
The retired first sergeant, who died Dec. 18 at age 80, was a member of the 2nd Ranger Company, whose members became the U.S. Army's first black soldiers to make a combat parachute jump. His decorations included six Purple Hearts for combat wounds during his service in Korea and Vietnam.
Posey "put out 200 percent all the time" and was "a good man to have at your back," James Monte, who served with him in Korea, said in remarks during the funeral.
He was "big and imposing" and "nothing bothered him," said Dr. Robert B. Clark Jr.
Fort Bragg paratroopers in their teens and early 20s carried the flag-draped casket to the hearse waiting in the parking lot of St. Jude Missionary Baptist Church.
Then a few men in their 70s and 80s wearing the tan beret later adopted by the Army Rangers climbed into their cars for the trip to the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake.
During World War II, black soldiers were allowed to receive airborne training and served in segregated airborne units but were not allowed to parachute into combat. In the Korean War, black paratroopers were recruited as Rangers, served in a segregated Ranger company and finally were allowed to join the fight.
Posey wrote a book, "The U.S. Army's First, Last, and Only All-Black Rangers: The 2nd Ranger Infantry Company in the Korean War, 1950-1951." The book was published in 2009.
He and other Rangers discussed their experiences in an interview with The Fayetteville Observer in 2000 on the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.
Posey and other former Rangers raised questions about the extent to which black soldiers got credit for what they did in the Korean War.
"We thought we were being recognized, and I think we were recognized to a certain degree, but when we came back and went through the history, we were not able to find the things we know were there," Posey said.
Posey spoke with pride about being a Ranger.
"He's expected to fight harder, work harder, train harder, go where no other soldier can go," Posey said. "He's talked at from the day he's there. He's no longer a regular soldier. He's no longer a regular airborne soldier. He's a Ranger soldier."
About 80 black Rangers fought a regiment of Chinese on top of Hill 581 during a night attack on May 20, 1951.
"Bodies were stacked out front as far as you could see," Posey said. "You had to push them away from your foxhole in order to fire. In some positions, all they could do was just throw grenades over enemy bodies."
He and other Rangers recalled the company commander from another unit who came up, saw the Chinese bodies and asked what had happened. The captain turned around, faced the Rangers, snapped to attention and saluted. The captain said, "Gentlemen, I salute you."
During the funeral, Clark remarked about the small crowd at the service, noting that many of Posey's contemporaries have passed on.
"Don't worry about the empty seats," Clark said. "It is obvious he was loved by a lot of people. He did his best all the time."