Re-published from the December 2004 issue of On Point magazine with the permission (2011) of the Army Historical Foundation

(Click here to open/download an Adobe pdf file of this article.)


Unit History-- 761ST TANK BATTALION
By LTC Roger Cunningham. USA-Ret.

In January 1941, the War Department announced that it intended to have African American units in each branch of the segregated Anny. The Armored Force, responsible for the doctrine, organization, and training of armored units, was not technically a separate branch, but it was accepted by the public as such. The War Department ignored the Armored Force's objections and directed it to organize three black tank battalions.  The three battalions formed as a result of the War Department's order, the 758th, 761st, and 784th Tank Battallions initially comprised the 5th Tank (later Armored) Group (Colored).

The 761 st was first commanded by LTC Edward E. Cruise and originally organized as a light tank battalion at Camp Claibome near Alexandria, Louisiana, in April 1942. Later, its personnel transitioned to medium tanks (M4 Shennans) and gained confidence in them during training at the Tank Destroyer Center at Camp Hood, Texas. The battalion arrived in England in September 1944 and was assigned to the Ninth Army. A month later, under the command LTC Paul L. Bates, it was reassigned to the Third Army and landed on Omaha Beach, making it the first African American armored unit to touch foreign soil. Except for six of its thirty-six officers, all of its 712 personnel were black.

In the European Theater of Operations, it was standard practice to attach a separate tank battalion to every frontline infantry division.  The 761st was attached to the 26th Infantry Division and welcomed by its commander, MG Willard S. Paul, on 31 October.  Two days later the Third Army commander, LTG George S. Patton, visited the battalion and stirred its members by proclaiming: "Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army ... I don't care what color you are, as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsabitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you ... Don't let them down, don't let me down."

Six days after LTG Patton's words of welcome, the 761 st entered combat, beginning a period of six months in action in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and Austria.  In addition to its service with the 26th Division, the battalion supported the Third Army's 71st and 87th Infantry Divisions, the 17th Airborne Division, and the 17th Armored Group. In the Ninth Anny it was attached to the 79th and 95th Infantry Divisions and the XVI Corps, and in the Seventh Army it supported the 71st and 103d Infantry Divisions. On 6 May 1945, while it was attached to the 71 st Division in Austria, the 76lst met Russian forces at Steyr on the Enns River, and ten of the battalion's tanks formed part of the divisional honor guard for the surrender of German forces in that country. The battalion then returned to Germany and performed occupation duties until it was inactivated in June 1946, having earned four campaign streamers - Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe. The soldiers of the 761 st earned eleven Silver Stars and sixty-nine Bronze Stars.

More than thirty years after the war, the 761 st finally earned recognition for its outstanding combat record. Senator Richard Stone of Florida urged Secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander to review the unit's history. Alexander and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown then recommended to President Jimmy Carter that the battalion receive a Presidential Unit Citation, which was presented in January 1978.

In 1996 the 761st again received belated recognition when the Silver Star that had been awarded posthumously to SSG Ruben Rivers in November 1944 was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. After being wounded when his Sherman tank struck a German mine, Rivers repeatedly refused evacuation and insisted on remaining with his unit. Three days later he was killed when his Sherman was hit while moving forward to engage German tanks. President Bill Clinton presented the medal to his family in January 1997.

Come out Fighting: motto of 761st Tank Battalion

by Tom Chillemi

“Men, you’re the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I don’t care what color you are, so long as you go up there and kill those Germans.”
—Gen. George S. Patton

In the winter of 1944-45, Raymond W. Burrell of Deltaville was fighting with the now famous 761st Tank Battalion that saw extensive action at the Battle of the Bulge—Hitler’s last desperate effort to stop the Allies at the border of France and Germany.

The U.S. Armed Forces were segregated until after World War II, and the “Black Panthers” of the 761st were the first tank battalion to be comprised of African-Americans.

Jackie Robinson, who would later be the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, was a member of the 761st Battalion. Burrell, 89, said Robinson’s bunk was three away from his, and they often talked.

Burrell easily recalls details of some of the harrowing events during his 183-day deployment. In addition, books have been written about the 761st, which was assigned to General George S. Patton’s Third Army.

image
Raymond W. Burrell of Deltaville still carries memories of the Battle of the Bulge where he was deployed during World War II with the 761st Tank Battalion. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

On November 2, 1944, Gen. Patton stood on a half-track and addressed the 761st Tank Battalion, said Burrell.

“Men, you’re the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army,” said Gen. Patton. “I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I don’t care what color you are, so long as you go up there and kill those Germans.”

Gen. Patton continued, “Everyone has their eyes on you and are expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you doing well. Don’t let them down, and don’t let me down.”

Burrell said Gen. Patton told the men they had to fight to stay alive. He kept referring to the ground with his hands showing “what was going to happen to you,” said Burrell.

Gen. Patton had sent men up the hill at the battle site for 90 days “and no one came back,” said Burrell, who wondered if his fate would be the same.

Patton knew that a soldier would not take reckless chances on his own, but would still find a way to take the objective, said Burrell. “Once you leave here don’t listen to anybody, you are on your own,” Patton told his soldiers. “If you get an order from an officer and you see a better way you can do it, pay him (officer) no mind. When you leave this point of departure, every man is responsible for his own death. I’ve been sending them up there and officers have been giving them orders, and they wind up in the ground.”

When he finished his speech, Gen. Patton said to Burrell, “You look like you don’t think much about what I said.”

Burrell agreed. “I told him I didn’t think much about what he said,” responded Burrell, who then asked Gen. Patton, “If Raymond gets killed, how are you going to get another Raymond?”

Gen. Patton responded with a rhyme, “Raymond’s name is Lou, let him go too. Just save the tanks . . . got any more questions?”

To which Burrell responded, “No, you said it all.”

Burrell had tried to transfer out of the 761st Tank Battalion after he saw how an armor-piercing shell burned through a tank’s armor in 30 seconds.

The Army told him that because he had graduated from high school, he could not transfer.

First battle

The 761st Tank Battalion landed in France at Omaha Beach in October 1944, four months after D-Day. “The stench of death hung over the beach like a cloud,” said Burrell.

A 400-mile trek led Burrell and his battalion to “Hill 253.”

Come-out-fightingBurrell, who was 26 years old, had narrowly escaped death when he and some men were warming themselves by a fire. A German shell exploded nearby and killed all of his buddies. Burrell ran along the road and got into a ditch. Another shell exploded and covered him with mud.

Later the same day, A, B, C and D companies of the 761st Tank Battalion moved toward a town to force out the Germans. Burrell and his Headquarters Company set up their tank to shoot its 105-mm cannon over the hill at the enemy as they retreated.

One of the 761st tanks had a track knocked off, recalled Burrell. The men escaped through a hatch in the floor and set up machine guns under their tank.

The Germans broadcast over loud speakers, “We got you now, so give up,” remembers Burrell. Instead, the Black Panthers shredded wave after wave of German soldiers who tried for hours to knock out the American position.

The Germans gave up the fight and when they started to abandon the town, the 761st was waiting at a narrow pass. “We laid down fire on them,” said Burrell.

Their job was to lob shells in front of the Germans as they left town.

Burrell, assigned to the Headquarters Company, said he told his captain to set the fuse so the shells would discharge 15 yards above ground. This would make the shells kill by concussion. All five tank companies fired simultaneously, creating a circle around the German convoy. When it was over, the stalled convoy was about 2 miles long and the truck engines idled until they ran out of fuel.

“They (dead Germans) were sitting up there in the trucks without a scratch on them,” said Burrell, who added that he still has nightmares about that sight.

Take cover

About 7 p.m. that day, a flare lit up the area where Burrell and his company were located. They knew they had to move. German planes “bombed that area all night and didn’t miss a spot,” he said.

Later, Burrell was on guard when a 28-man German patrol came through and saw the damaged equipment. Burrell said he wanted to use his 50-mm machine gun to cut them down, but held his fire, knowing the noise would give away his position. Instead, Burrell called ahead and told the infantry to be looking for the Germans. “They captured every last one of them,” he said.

“That was only the beginning,” continued Burrell. The 761st was the spearhead as Allied Forces advanced from the west on Berlin, trying to get there before the Russians, who were moving toward the capital from the east.

Eventually, the 761st met up with the Russians, who took Berlin. The 761st headed west toward home.

Burrell said the Germans would rather surrender to Americans than to Russians.  Sometimes, however, the Germans would walk up to American soldiers acting like they wanted to surrender, but would then produce live hand grenades from under their coats.

Even as the final surrender of WWII was being negotiated in May 1945, a German railroad gun fired a shell that left a huge crater in the earth near the 761st. Burrell and his men wanted to retaliate by knocking down a smoke stack near the railroad gun, but were told to hold fire. “They fired that one for fun, that’s the truth,” he said.

Memories

The horror of war stays with Burrell, who still suffers the effects of frostbite from that cold German winter.

Burrell said he always felt sorry for the German mothers who lost their sons, just as the American mothers did. “I had sympathy for them all. Look at all the mess we could have done without. It was all started by a few men. I wonder why it happened?

“Greed is one thing that caused it. Everybody wants to be boss. Nobody wants to do the work,” continued Burrell. “We still haven’t learned anything. World leaders still got that mess in their mind.”

It wasn’t until January 24, 1978, that President Jimmy Carter awarded the 761st Tank Battalion the Presidential Unit Citation in recognition of its sacrifice

____________________________________________________________

 

Republished with permission from the Southside Sentinel serving Middlesex County, Virginia, and the adjacent region (article originally published in the Southside Sentinel on January 7, 2009)

Raleigh Hill: Veteran helped make history

Sunday, February 25, 2007
By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Texarkana Gazette

Staff photo by Aaron Street. Raleigh Hill of Texarkana, Ark., is a former U.S. Army corporal and served as an assistant tank driver in the 761st Tank Battalion in Europe during World War II.

Men like Raleigh Hill are rare.

Rarer still are the history makers who went where no one had ever gone before and blazed a trail for others to follow.

Before studying history and mathematics for four years and going on to teach both subjects in public schools for 36 years, former Army Cpl. Raleigh Hill was helping make history.

As an assistant driver of an Army Sherman tank and .30-caliber machine gun operator stationed in Europe during World War II, Hill was a member of the 761st Tank Battalion -- the first U.S. black armored unit to see combat in that theater of the war.

"Our tanks weren't built as tough as the Germans built theirs. Basically, we just had a lot more of them than the Germans had and we were able to overwhelm them with our numbers. We had about a dozen of our Sherman tanks to go against every one of their King Tiger tanks."

The 761st was one of three segregated black tank battalions that fought in World War II. The other two, formed by the Pentagon and designated for black soldiers, included the 758th Tank Battalion assigned to North Africa and the 784th Tank Battalion assigned to the Pacific.

"Back during that time, black soldiers were mostly used as quartermasters and supply clerks who loaded and unloaded Army supplies. But at about that time, there were two black newspapers (the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender) which advocated putting black soldiers in combat."

Besides these three tank battalions, the Pentagon also designated only two all black-infantry divisions for combat -- the 92nd and the 93rd, Hill said.

Born March 21, 1924, in Nashville, Ark., Hill was one of seven children -- five boys and two girls. His family moved to Texarkana, Ark., in 1929 when he was 5 years old.

Hill started public school at College Hill Elementary and eventually went on to Washington High School for the seventh through 12th grades. He graduated in 1943.

Hill started public school at College Hill Elementary and eventually went on to Washington High School for the seventh through 12th grades. He graduated in 1943.

During his senior year, Hill was earning $5 a week working at Buhrman-Pharr Hardware. Then one day he received his draft notice.

Upon looking at the notice, his employer, Mrs. F.E. Pharr, appealed his draft to the local draft board headed by Luther Lowe, a prominent Garland City, Ark., farmer and rancher.

"At the time (November 1942), a lot of my classmates had to leave high school and go into the service. But Mrs. Pharr called the board and asked them to let me finish high school first. So I graduate May 27, 1943, and the next day I got my greeting from Uncle Sam, and I reported to the Miller County Courthouse to take the bus to Little Rock."

Hill and about 18 others rode to Little Rock to be sworn in.

At the time, qualifying for military service had a social advantage, Hill said.

"If you were 4-F (disqualified from military service), it meant the government didn't want you, and if the government didnt want you, the women wouldn't have you."

After induction, Hill reported to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training. There he started drawing his starting GI salary of $21 a month before going on to Camp Hood, Texas, which is known today as Fort Hood.

"You had to know how to take your gun apart and reassemble it piece by piece. There at Camp Hood we went through some intensive battle training. We went on forced marches 14 miles with a 113-pound field pack on our backs. We also crawled on the ground under live machine gun fire."

By December 1943, Hill, now a corporal, was earning about $40 a month. He reported to Camp Shank in New York, where he was stationed for a few more months before eventually boarding an old supply ship named the Espire Bay in late August 1944.

Arriving in England on Sept. 11, 1944, Hill was assigned to the 761st. His unit soon crossed the English Channel and landed in northern France. There it caught up with the rapidly advancing Allied ground forces.

"When we landed on the Normandy beaches you could still tell there had been a violent battle there because there were still bodies of American GI's floating, as well as GI combat helmets still floating off shore. Somehow the salt water helped keep the bodies preserved."

Hill's tank crew consisted of five men -- commander Herbert Hayes, driver Willie Price, Hill as assistant driver and machine gunner and shell gun loader W.O. Turner. Landis Scott was the tank's 76mm gunner.

"When we got to France, we had to weld cleats to our tank treads as well as do a lot of other improvising to keep our tank on the move."

Hill's gun was a .30-caliber machine gun that he fired as he moved it from side to side through a slit in the tank.

"We all had earphones on in our helmets so we could hear our commander's instructions. I held and moved the machine gun in place by holding my elbows against my hips as I moved the gun from side to side. Our leather helmets resembled leather football helmets of that time."

Hill and his crew each had a hand-held M-3 automatic "grease gun" that they carried over their shoulders.

"These grease guns weren't really all that accurate, but they kept the enemy at a respectable distance because you could spray bullets and get a lot of lead out in front of you."

At various times, the 761st was on loan to Lt. Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army, Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges' 1st Army and Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch's 7th Army that advanced up southern France.

After playing a suppporting role for the U.S. ground forces rolling forward across northern France for the next two months, Hill first saw combat Nov. 7, 1944, during the battle for the French city of Metz, not too far from the French-German border.

"Our first battle was near the city of Metz in France's Lorraine Province. That city and that area, along with the city of Nancy."

Hill said the area became a heavily contested combat area at that time.

"We ran into a lot of German artillery as well as a lot of their concrete pillbox defense fortifications. Our infantry had to crawl over the dead bodies of other infantrymen as they worked their way up to throw hand grenades in the open gun slits and windows of these pillboxes."

At the time, some advanced U.S. units reached a defense line of German fortifications, along the French-German border, known as the Siegfried Line. The line mostly consisted of waist-high iron and steel anti-tank obstacles or posts covered with concrete. They resembled giant teeth protruding up from the ground, Hill said.

"These were called tiger's teeth," Hill said as he attempted to draw them on paper. "The area became a tank graveyard. The infantrymen had to shove tubes full of explosives in and around these teeth. We called it pulling the teeth of the Siegfried Line."

Besides the fortifications, the German tanks proved to be a more formidable foe.

"The German tanks had 6-inch armor on the side and 12-inch armor in front."

Hill also said he could tell the difference between American artillery fire and German artillery just by the sound of the shells.

"The German 88 mm anti-tank shells could come toward us in a straight line of fire whereas the American shells would arc toward their target. The GIs up there would talk about how they would wine and dine on the Siegfried Line and dance to the music of the 88 mm band because of the sound those German guns made."

The day after Hill's tank engaged in its first field battle, he got wounded and nearly lost his life as a German armored piercing shell struck his tank and immediately ignited fires on the inside. The date was Nov. 8, 1944.

"We had just started our first week of combat to help pave the way for ground forces to take the city of Metz. The tank blazed up after the shell hit and all the rest of the tank crew got out, ran to the back of our tank column -- all except our tank commander, Herbert Hayes, who panicked and ran to the front. We never saw him again, and we never knew what happened to him because he wound up missing in action."

Meanwhile, Hill was dazed and confused by the shell's impact. He suffered shrapnel wounds to his left foot and left arm. He also received second-degree burns to his face and head.

"The shrapnel that went into my foot is still in there to this day," Hill said as he removed his shoe to show the scars.

Hill said he would have lost his life that day had it not been for the quick thinking and bravery of tank driver Willie Price.

"Willie named our tank the Crescent City Kid since he was from the Crescent City black neighborhood of New Orleans. Willie Price helped get me out of the tank just before all the live ammunition in it started to explode."

Hill said Price then shepherded him down and back to where the rest of the tank crew had fled.

"After helping me out of the tank, Willie Price herded all of us together and lead us to a roadside ditch. We must have crawled in the ditch for a quarter mile until we popped up out of it safe from enemy machine gun fire."

As the crew crawled through the ditch, the Germans zeroed in their mounted machine guns on where Hill and his tank crew were moving.

"You could feel the heat of the bullets whizzing around your head."

When Hill and the rest of the tank crew moved far enough away from the shooting, they emerged from the ditch and Hill discovered he was limping from his shrapnel wounds.

Fortunately, a U.S. Army ambulance soon appeared on the scene and medics treated Hill's wounds and eventually took him to a hospital in Paris.

"As I was lying on the emergency room table I looked over and saw a white soldier who was laying on another table with a severe throat wound and undergoing surgery. I could see the surgical balloons collapse as he stopped breathing. Then the nurse closed a cloth curtain between us, but it was too late. I had already seen what happen. He died."

After recovering in the hospital for three days, the Army transported Hill to England on a U.S. C-47 troop carrier and cargo plane.

Once in England, Hill spent the next few months recovering from his wounds before being flown back to France and put up in a replacement center in early 1945.

During his recovery, his unit changed directions -- from heading west toward Germany to pushing north toward Belgium. It was an attempt to help relieve the 101st Airborne Division holding the town of Bastogne amid a strong German counteroffensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was Christmas 1944.

"When I got back to France and reassigned back to the 761st, they gave me a choice of either going back to combat or becoming company clerk and keeping up with the unit's payroll records. I chose company clerk."

Although officially not assigned to combat and stationed in rear area tents, Hill was still close enough to the action to hear the exchange of fire between U.S. and German artillery batteries.

As the 761st eventually crossed the Rhine River and steadily advanced into Germany, Hill said combat basically became limited to mopping up a few pockets of enemy resistance in some towns.

"Most of the time, the Germans would surrender a town by hanging white flags or bed sheets on sticks and place them out the windows. But sometimes they would fight for the town."

But by this time for Hill and the rest of his tank crew, the only serious threat to life came as the occasional German fighter plane would swoop down and strafe the tank columns.

"We had just crossed the Rhine River and moved to the roadside when an American Piper Cub reconaissance plane came flying over us just before evening. I later found out it was actually a German pilot flying one of our planes they had shot down and captured."

Hill found out because later that night a German fighter appeared.

"That night, the German fighter strafed our tents as we were laying on the ground inside them. He made three passes as I tried to unzip my sleeping bag open. I finally tore the sleeping bag open and took out running for cover under our tank."

Some days later, another strafing followed. This treated Hill and others to a strange sight.

"The second time we were strafed, it was about 10 or 11 in the morning when we had just pulled off onto the side of the road, at the edge of the woods, for a break," Hill said. "It was one of those German jet fighters they built just at the end of the war. We had two 45-year-old men in our outfit that just tore out running and vaulted over a wire fence to escape. I had never seen anyone that age, run that fast and jump that high before, but it happened."

As the jet passed over again, Hill said he could see black smoke pouring out one of the engines as a flight of U.S. P-51 Mustangs gave pursuit.

"The P-51s thought they hit him, but it turned out just to be regular jet engine smoke."

Finally, the war ended.

"On that day, May 8, 1945, the announcement came that the Germans had surrendered and the war was over. It became one of the happiest days of my life. Everybody started throwing their helmets up in the air and yelling and drinking Schnapps."

Once the war ended, Hill continued to serve in the U.S. occupation force until November 1945.

During that time, Hill said he saw many of the German prisoners of war being released.

"But even dressed as civilians, you could always tell who the Germans were because of their blond hair and steel-blue eyes."

Hill said many of the Germans, particularly those in the former SS military units, remained fanatical so it was dangerous for members of his tank unit to wander into towns alone.

"I remember finding one of our guys winding up dead and floating in a river not far from where we were stationed. We never knew exactly what happened to him, but he wound up dead."

Hill said he would have been forced to stayed in Europe longer had he not come up with a clever scheme to get back home.

"At that time, most of the other black men in the service had not finished high school. Since I did, the Army considered me what they called 'critical personnel,' so I couldn't leave. They told me I was still needed to do the payroll, but I told them I made arrangements for someone else to take my job even though I knew he couldn't hardly spell his own name."

The ruse worked. After sticking the Army with an intellectually lighter-weight clerk, Hill hurriedly boarded a troopship docked in Rotterdam, Holland, and made for the English Channel and eventually out to the Atlantic Ocean.

"At that point, I knew I was home free because I knew the Army wasn't going to have the ship turned back just so they could arrest me for sticking them with someone who couldn't do the job," Hill said with a hearty laugh. "Up until that time, Europe was as far away from home as I had ever been in my life."

Arriving in Newport News, Va., to a crowd of tens of thousands of patriotic supporters, Hill said he never felt better about being back home in his life.

"The crowds were clapping their hands and patting us on the backs as we disembarked. One of the military bands was playing ‘Stars & Stripes Forever.' It was a great moment in my life even though I was hungry and feeling malnourished from not eating while we were crossing the Atlantic. There was a lot of sea sickness going on and I just didn't want to get sick, so I didn't eat on the way back."

Upon arriving at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, Hill received his honorable discharge and application for his GI Bill. He entered college at Pine Bluff, Ark., in September 1946. He earned a bachelor of science degree in history with a minor in mathematics in the spring of 1950.

Hill then returned to Texarkana, Ark., where he had a teaching job waiting for him at Douglas High School in the Texarkana, Ark., School District, starting in September 1950.

Hill later went on to teach at Mandeville Elementary School before teaching algebra at Washington High School in the fall of 1963.

When the school district integrated in 1964, Washington High School consolidated with Arkansas High. Hill went on to teach at Jefferson Junior High for a brief time before transferring to Union Elementary School. He eventually wound up at Washington Elementary School, where he taught until he retired in 1986.

"I got out at a time when the kids were pretty well starting to run the schools," he said.

Looking back on his life's experience, Hill said cooperation with other people was perhaps the most valuable lesson he brought home from Europe and applied to his life.

"I learned to get along with a lot of different people and work with a lot of different people -- Americans, French, British, Dutch, Austrians and Belgians. It's been an experience I would never want to trade."

Copyright © 2007 Texarkana Gazette
Serving Texarkana, Texas/Arkansas

pbcov A detailed and informative history is told in the book entitled The 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion in World War II -- An Illustrated History of the First African American Armored Unit to See Combat, by Joe Wilson, Jr. -- son of a 761st tanker (with an afterword by the author's father, Joseph E. Wilson, Sr.)

The following description of the book is from the website of the publisher, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, located in Jefferson, North Carolina.

This is a comprehensive record of the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African American armored unit to enter combat. Assigned at various times to the Third, Seventh and Ninth armies, the “Black Panthers” fought major engagements in six European countries and participated in four major Allied campaigns, inflicting 130,000 casualties on the German army and capturing or destroying thousands of weapons, despite severe weather, difficult terrain, heavily fortified enemy positions, extreme shortages of replacement personnel and equipment, and an overall casualty rate approaching 50 percent.

Richly illustrated and containing many interviews with surviving members of the 761st, this work gives long overdue recognition to the unit whose motto was “Come Out Fighting.” It recounts the events that in 1978—33 years after the end of World War II—led to the 761st Tank Battalion’s receiving a Presidential Unit Citation, the highest honor a unit can receive. Also described are the efforts that resulted, in 1997—53 years after giving his life on the battlefield—in the Medal of Honor’s being posthumously awarded to Sergeant Ruben Rivers.

The son of a tanker in the 761st, Joe Wilson, Jr., a Systems Accountant in Washington, DC, has also written for World War II magazine.

Reviews:

“lavishly illustrated with photos of the participants...well documented, with a good bibliography. Recommended” — Choice;

“one of those well-documented labors of love...heavily illustrated work” — C&RL News;

“a worthwhile book of tank combat” — The Military Book Review;

“complete history” — ForeWord Magazine.

“Your book on the 761st is excellent. It is the best researched and best written book on the battalion. You have put together an accurate accounting of the achievements of the 761st and it should stand as the definitive history of the unit” — Baron Bates (son of the late Colonel Paul L. Bates, the 761st commander).

ISBN: 0-7864-0667-4, 323pp. 141 photographs, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index illustrated case binding (7 x 10) 1999

 

 

 


InThe Black Panthers: A Story of Race, War, and Courage — the 761st Tank Battalion in World War II, historian Gina M. DiNicolo tells the full and unvarnished history of this important American fighting force. Relying on extensive archival research, including documents that had not been consulted in previous accounts, and interviews with surviving soldiers and family members, the author describes the unit's training, deployment, combat, and individuals, such as Sgt. Ruben Rivers, one of only seven African American men awarded the Medal of Honor for World War II heroism. The professionalism, dedication, and courage of the 761st and other non-white units made clear that the strength of the American army in the future lay with integration—one of the enduring accomplishments of these servicemen.

Gina M. DiNicolo is a military historian and award-winning journalist who has written on military topics for nearly two decades. She was a contributing editor at Military Officer magazine, where more than twenty of her stories graced the publication's cover. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in history, and served as an officer in the Marine Corps.

Above is from the publisher's web page.  See also the author's Facebook page.

 

 


 

jabbar

Brothers In Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton

"I believe it is time for America to meet the men of the 761st, common men who grew to become heroes, black men who fought for a country that often hated them, stalwart men whoovercame social injustice to become men of colorblind valor." — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The following description of the book is from the website of the publisher, Broadway (an imprint of Random House.)

A powerful wartime saga in the bestselling tradition of Flags of Our Fathers, Brothers in Arms recounts the extraordinary story of the 761st Black Panthers, the first all-black armored unit to see combat in World War II.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar first learned about the battalion from family friend Leonard “Smitty” Smith, a veteran of the battalion. Working with acclaimed writer Anthony Walton, Abdul-Jabbar interviewed the surviving members of the battalion and their descendants to weave together a page-turning narrative based on their memories and stories, from basic training through the horrors on the battlefield to their postwar experiences in a racially divided America.

Trained essentially as a public relations gesture to maintain the support of the black community for the war, the battalion was never intended to see battle. In fact, General Patton originally opposed their deployment, claiming African Americans couldn’t think quickly enough to operate tanks in combat conditions. But the Allies were so desperate for trained tank personnel in the summer of 1944, following heavy casualties in the fields of France, that the battalion was called up.

While most combat troops fought on the front for a week or two before being rotated back, the men of the 761st served for more than six months, fighting heroically under Patton’s Third Army at the Battle of the Bulge and in the Allies’ final drive across France and Germany. Despite a casualty rate that approached 50 percent and an extreme shortage of personnel and equipment, the 761st would ultimately help liberate some thirty towns and villages, as well as the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp. (Note Liberators comment, below.)

The racism that shadowed them during the war and the prejudice they faced upon their return home is an indelible part of their story. What shines through most of all, however, are the lasting bonds that united them as soldiers and brothers, the bravery they exhibited on the battlefield, and the quiet dignity and patriotism that defined their lives.

ISBN: 0385503385, Hardcover, 320 pages, 1st edition May 4, 2004, also available as an eBook.

 

 

 


 

Sasser Patton's Panthers, The African-American 761st Tank Battalion In World War II by Charles W. Sasser. From the website of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, Inc.:

On the battlefields of World War II, the men of the African-American 761st Tank Battalion under General Patton broke through enemy lines with the same courage with which they broke down the racist limitations set upon them by others -- proving themselves as tough, reliable, and determined to fight as any tank unit in combat.

Beginning in November 1944, they engaged the enemy for 183 straight days, spearheading many of Patton's offensives at the Battle of the Bulge and in six European countries. No other unit fought for so long and so hard without respite. The 761st defeated more than 6,000 enemy soldiers, captured thirty towns, liberated Jews from concentration camps -- and made history as the first African-American armored unit to enter the war.

This is the true story of the Black Panthers, who proudly lived up to their motto (Come Out Fighting) and paved the way for African-Americans in the U.S. military -- while battling against the skepticism and racism of the very people they fought for.

Charles W. Sasser has been a full-time freelance writer, journalist, and photographer since 1979. He is a veteran of both the U.S. Navy (journalist) and U.S. Army (Special Forces, the Green Berets), a combat veteran and former combat correspondent wounded in action. He also served fourteen years as a police officer (in Miami, Florida, and in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was a homicide detective). He is author, co-author or contributing author of more than 30 books and novels, including One Shot-One Kill and Hill 488, both available from Pocket Books. Sasser now lives on a ranch in Chouteau, Oklahoma, with his wife Donna.

ISBN: 0743485009, Trade Paperback, 368 pages, publication date February 2005

 

 

 


 

 

761stmovieIn 761st -- a 2007 movie -- twelve tankers of the 761st Tank Battalion recount their experience in the United States Army, fighting for a freedom overseas that they did not enjoy in America.

Soldiers of the 761st tank battalion
Pete Chatmon
Pete Chatmon
Pete Chatmon, Steven A. White, Wayne D. Robinson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

1tfhc

In First To Fight: The Black Tankers of WWII -- a movie from the History Channel -- veterans of the first black tank unit to see combat recall the struggles they faced during WWII. (First to Fight is one of four documentaries in a History Channel set name A Fighting Force: African-American Military Heroes, also available from Amazon.)

  • A probing look at the plight of African-American soldiers during World War II.
  • Includes interviews with veterans of the 761st Tank Battalion.
  • See how the U.S. Military has endeavored to correct its racist past.

The 761st Tank Battalion made history as the first all black tank unit to see combat. Like the better-known Tuskegee Airmen, they proved they were as competent as any soldier in the U.S. military. Over the course of 183 days on the front, the 761st helped liberate more than 30 towns under Nazi control. Collectively they were awarded 11 Silver Stars, 70 Bronze Stars, 250 Purple Hearts, and a Medal of Honor. And more than 30 years after coming home, the 761st was finally recognized with the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation.

Through the stories of a select group of surviving veterans, First to Fight examines the history of the battalion--how they came to be; the racism they faced; their battles to be allowed to fight; and courageous service in the European Theater. The program also examines the larger issue of how the U.S. military has evolved from a segregated to an integrated institution.

 

 

 


 

 

hithard

Hit Hard is the story of the 761st Tank Battalion as told by the commander of its A Company, David J. Williams (recipient of the Silver Star Medal, two Purple Hearts, and four Campaign Stars) published by Bantam Books (1983) (illustrations by Greg Beecham and Tom Beecham, maps by Alan McKnight and William McKnight.)

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Pfeifer

The 761st Tank Battalion (African-American Soldiers) by Kathryn Browne Pfeifer, for ages 9 to 12, published by Twenty-First Century Books (1994), discusses the history of the Unit's battle record and individual experiences, and has a chronology of African American service in the U.S. military and a bibliography of books on African American soldiers during World War II.

 


 

Liberators

Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II, by Potter, Miles and Rosenblum (NY: Harcourt Brace, 1992), 303 pages, numerous photos, half in duotone. Companion volume to the PBS television documentary about the role of the black soldier in World War II. Both sparked a controversy by claims that black troops (particularly of the 761st Tank Battalion) were the first to liberate Buchenwald (later editions of this book contained an errata sheet acknowledging the debate.)

 


Honoring Sergeant Carter, by Allene Carter and Robert L. Allen

Carter

By the publisher, Amistad Press:

 

In the early months of 1945 ... black soldiers, for the first time, played a major combat role. And Sergeant Eddie Carter was right in the thick of the battle.... With a zealous fearlessness, Carter single-handedly captured several Germans and secured reconnaissance that would be critical in capturing Speyer. His efforts would win him. a Distinguished Service Cross. But it wasn't until fifty-two years later that Carter was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Here is the untold story of why the American government not only withheld Carter's much due recognition but why they also denied him -- one of the most decorated black American soldiers in WWII -- the opportunity to reenlist. And here, too, is the inspiring story of the valiant Carter family -- from the moving courtship of Eddie and his wife, Mildred, to the family's unrelenting efforts to get the American government to apologize and own up to the racism and McCarthyism that fueled years of deceit and bigotry.

Joe Wilson, Jr.'s review (June 12, 2003): Gives Balance To The Greatest Generation! Honoring Sergeant Carter uncovers an important yet esoteric chapter in American WWII history and gives balance to The Greatest Generation. You may only come across a book as fine as this once or twice in a lifetime. If your budget allows only one book – this is the one. It is “intellectually honest,” informative, passionate, and if you don’t have ice water running through your veins, you will feel it! While reading I reminisced of my late father who served in very close proximity with Sergeant Carter during and after WWII. They never knew each other. My father saw Sergeant Carter after the war – how could he miss him – the sharp and deadly soldier that Carter was described to be and one of the very few African Americans holding the Distinguished Service Cross. My father understood all too well what happened to many good men during this era. I look back on living in Germany as a youngster during the Cold War with my avid interest in WWII. I explored bunkers and shopped flea markets searching for relics. Most had the dreaded swastika on it. My father observed my hobby and explained to me in great detail how it was dangerous and in bad taste, but I could keep the collection. He then told me in no uncertain terms: “If you come across anything with a Communist marking on it ……etc, etc… DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME SON!!!” I shook my head yes – I was speechless. Honoring Sergeant Carter provided clearer understanding of why I couldn’t speak that day. Sergeant First Class Edward A. Carter, Jr., affectionately known as Eddie, was one of the seven African American soldiers honored at the White House with the Medal of Honor. This long overdue tribute (over 50 years) took place on January 13, 1997. When you read Eddie’s story - that is backed with strong research and solid documentation - you will see how fact (in this situation) is stranger than fiction. A must read for WWII historians and buffs who are sincerely interested in balancing their understanding of WWII. Honoring Sergeant Carter is a great companion book that will complement Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.

 

 

 


The 784th Tank Battalion in World War II History of an African American Armored Unit in Europe

 

 

The following description of a book about the 784 Tank Battalion titled The 784th Tank Battalion in World War II History of an African American Armored Unit in Europe, authored by Joe Wilson, will be available in libraries about January 10, 2007, is from the website of the publisher, McFarland:

With the onset of World War II, African Americans found themselves in a struggle just to be allowed to fight for their country. Individuals like Lt. General Leslie McNair and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt fought against the military’s discrimination, arguing that the nation could little afford to overlook such an important source of strength. Their eventual success took the form of a military experiment designed to determine whether African Americans were as capable as white soldiers. The 784th was one tank battalion formed as a result.

Part of an effort to chronicle the history of the first African Americans to serve in armored units, this history recounts the service of the 784th Tank Battalion. Replete with observations and comments from veterans of the battalion, it paints a vivid picture of World War II as seen through the eyes of soldiers who had to confront second-class treatment by their army and fellow soldiers while enduring the horrors of war. It details the day-to-day activities of the 784th Tank Battalion, describing basic training, actual combat, occupation and, finally, the deactivation of the unit. Special emphasis is placed on the ways in which these war experiences contributed to the American civil rights movements of the 1960s.

About the Author
The son of a tanker in the 761st, Joe Wilson, Jr., a systems accountant in Washington, D.C., has also written for World War II magazine. He is the author of The 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion in World War II (1999), and also the author of this website.

 

 

 

 


 

Invisible SoldierThe Invisible Soldier: The Experience of the Black Soldier, World War II compiled by Mary Penick Motley and with a forward by Howard Donavan Queen was first published by Wayne State University Press in 1975

A book consisting of a series of interviews about the experience of the black soldier.  As described by the publisher, Wayne State University Press: "By turns shocking, nightmarish, despairing, bitterly ironic, and, in rare instances, full of laughter, the fifty-five oral histories in The Invisible Soldier add a significant chapter to black history. The interviews disclose the brutality of the unseen wars black servicemen fought when confronted with the official army policy of segregation and by attitudes in southern communities, as well as overseas."

 

 

 

 


 

 


Little Known Front

The Little Known Front, by Eric Urbain, translation by Lane Barton
From post in Forum:

"The Little Known Front," written by Eric Urbain and published in Belgium in 2002, was translated by Lane Barton, G-345, 87th Infantry Division, and privately printed in the U.S. in 2004. After being temporarily out-of-print, a new printing is expected in the middle of February 2006.

The book covers the events that took place from December 21, 1944, to January 14, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge in the area west of Bastogne. While concentrating on the stories of the men in the 87th Infantry, 11th Armored, and 17th Airborne Divisions, the author also discusses the role of the 761st Tank Battalion from the time it joined the 345th Infantry on December 31st up to the action around Tillet on January 9th.

"The Little Known Front" is an 8 1/2" by 11" softbound book containing over 300 pages, 150 photographs and maps, and a personal name index. It is available from Robert Reed, 38 Bagdad Rd, Durham NH 03824. Please see the Forum post (click here) for pricing details. Also see a review by Mitchell Kaidy published on the website 87thinfantrydivision.com.


 

 


 

 

Lens of an Infantryman, A World War II Memoir with Photographs from a Hidden Camera by Murray Leff, published by McFarland (Jefferson, North Carolina) 129 photos, index, appendices, 207 pages softcover (7 x 10) 2007, ISBN 978-0-7864-2867-0. Click here to visit the publisher's website.

Lens of an InfantrymanMurry Leff fought in Europe beside the 784th Tank Battalion while he was part of the 137th Infantry Regiment. After he arrived in Europe he traded his cigarette ration for a 35mm camera. Hiding the camera under his field jacket, he was able to record some of the war’s most heated fighting. Photographs snapped while he crouched in a water-filled ditch show Leff’s rifle squad burying their heads in mud as enemy shells come in. Images show a supporting tank on its arrival and later, smoldering from a direct hit by German fire. These and many more photographs are part of the memoir recording Leff’s World War II experiences from Gremercey Forest through the Battle of the Bulge, the Ruhr Pocket and the fall of Germany. Now the owner of an advertising agency, Murray Leff lives in Bellerose, New York.

COLOR BARRIER BROKEN

African-American tank battalions proved themselves in WWII

Background information and quotes from E.G. McConnell were taken from Joe W. Wilson Jr.’s The 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion in World War II.

By JOHN NEVILLE/Turret Staff Writer

Sixteen-year-old E. G. McConnell took a train from New York to Fort Knox in 1941. Several of the rail cars were full of troops. Blacks rode in the front, whites in the back. The seating arrangement was by design as the soot and ashes from the engines favored the front.

McConnell was one of many young African American men who, after completing basic training, were eventually attached to the 761st Tank Battalion (light). The 761st was activated in April of 1942.

McConnell remembers when the train made its way through the hills of Kentucky.

“…They came through our cars and ordered us to pull our shades down,” McConnell said. “I couldn’t understand this. My curiosity got the best of me, so I went between the cars to see exactly what was happening, why we had to pull our shades down.

“I saw a bunch of hillbillies out there, this was real hillbilly, redneck country. And they were waiting alongside the tracks with rifles. I later found out that several troop trains were fired on. So they were ordering us to pull the shades down for our own safety. Yeah, and we were going to fight for the whole United States, not just Harlem.”

But racism was the way of life for a lot of young men, especially those from the South. Seeing it at Knox and other Army training areas wasn’t anything new.

“I never really thought about it at the time,” said Simmons Washington (in an interview with the Turret), who was drafted out of Meridian Mississippi. “Now, when after it (WWII) was all over and they bring up all this stuff, then you think about it. But at that time, I never really thought about it. We said we got a job to do, and we just got to it. We said we want to get it over with because we got the greatest country in the world.”

Washington never actually made it to Knox. He did his basic training at Camp Claiborne, La., which was located just outside the city of Alexandria and about 45 miles east of what is now Fort Polk.

Washington was assigned to the 784th Tank Battalion, which was activated in April of 1943. The 784th was formed and attached to the 5th Tank Group (light), along with the 761st.

The 758th Tank Battalion was also part of the 5th Tank Group. It was made up of 98 African American men who were sent from Fort Custer, Michigan to Fort Knox’s 78th Tank Battalion for armor warfare training.

The Army, under order from what was then the War Department, moved some Soldiers from the 758th and Knox’s Armored Force Replacement Training Center to Claiborne.

After some additional tank training at Fort Hood, 5th Tank Group’s battalion headed for Europe. Washington and the 784th headed to Liverpool, England, and then onto France.

“We were a little shaky,” Washington said. “We were leaving England and we started crossing the (English) channel, and you started seeing half sunken ships and it seemed kinda bad. Then you get into the harbor (France) and you see the houses all blown apart, and that kinda shakes you up. Then you start seeing the dead animals and things like that.”

The 761st got into the fight Nov. 8, 1944, steering their attack toward Moyenvic and Vic-sur-Seille, France.

McConnell described his first day of combat with the 761st

“…It was now getting late in the afternoon and the sun was shining. While we were waiting there I was talking to Tressvant Anderson, the man who wrote Come Out Fighting. He was a war correspondent. I saw this injured German across the road. Having been a Boy Scout, I knew first aid. I went over to see him. He would raise up on his arms, he was on his belly. How pitiful he looked. His whole damned jaw was hanging. I got the first aid kit out of the tank and Trezzvant Anderson went along with me over to him. We crawled over to where he was, near a ditch. We got up close and really looked at him. I saw how messed up his face was with no mouth, just top teeth and blood pouring everywhere…”

McConnell gave the German some basic first aid, but then the fog of war set in.

“...All of a sudden they (Germans) started shelling us,” he said. We retreated back to our tank and got in and we left that poor soul out there. There was nothing we could do for him. We couldn’t even give him an aspirin because he had no way of swallowing. Then I happened to see a scout car, a half-track from some other unit. This half-track diverted from its driving on the road and deliberately went off the road and ran over this guy we were trying to help. I couldn’t believe this. This was war…”

While there were white officers in the 761st and the 784th, most white Soldiers never came across black combat Soldiers during the war, according to Fort Knox Historic Preservation Specialist Matthew Rector.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize that there were black soldiers in combat in WWII, and if they do, it’s only really now coming to light,” Rector said. “But for a long time it was overshadowed. If you talk to a lot of white WWII vets and ask them if they saw any black Soldiers over there, ‘The say, well I saw them driving trucks or doing maintenance.’ You don’t find too many that saw black combat soldiers.”

KNOX HISTORY

Naming of Brooks Field

Brooks field was named for a tanker who also happened to be the first armor Soldier killed in combat. The Armor force wasn’t established until 1932. Brooks was assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion which was actually a white tank battalion. The unit’s superiors didn’t know he was black.

Fort Knox decided to name the field in Brooks’ honor and invited his parents to post for the ceremony. Post officials were taken aback when they saw that Brooks’ parents were black. Officials approached Post Commander Maj. Gen. Jacob Devers to see if he wanted to proceed with the dedication.

“It doesn’t matter. Go on.” Rectors said of Devers’ response

761ST HISTORY

Patton pre-war speech to 761st

Patton quote: “Men, you’re the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don’t care what color you are.... Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you. Don’t let them down, and damn you, don’t let me down!”

Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.
St. Nicholas, France, Nov. 2, 1944

KNOX HISTORY

Crecy Hall named after 761st Soldier

Fort Knox’s 2nd Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Training Brigade memorialized tanker Maj. Warren G.H. Crecy by naming a building after him in 1998. The program for the ceremony reprinted the words written by World War II correspondent Tressvant Anderson: To look at Warren G.H. Crecy you’d never think that here was a killer who had slain more of the enemy than any man in the 761st. He extracted a toll of lives from the enemy that would have formed the composition of three or four companies with his machine guns alone. And yet, he is such a quiet, easy going, meek-looking fellow…he’d never use a word stronger than “damn.”

But here is a youth who went so primitively savage on the battlefield that his only thought was to “kill, kill, kill,” and he poured his rain of death pellets into German bodies with so much reckless abandon and joy that he was the nemesis of all foes of the 761st. Other men craved to ride with Crecy and share the reckless thrill of killing the hated enemy that had killed their comrades.

Copyright © 2007 The Turret
an authorized publication for members of the U.S. Army
Elizabethtown, KY

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