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Memorial: Ira W. Austin

Austin1Ira William Austin became a member of my family in the last decade of his life, during the last decade of the twentieth century; he married my widowed mother, Juanita. He was immediately embraced by all generations of his new family because of his wit, warm spirit, and enormous personal appeal. Ira was also a member of that generation which endured economic depression, battled racial and social injustice at home, and courageously fought abroad during World War II to secure the lives and well-being of those who came later. Ira left us this year early in the month of March, during the last year of this century and this millennium. Though his time with our family was not blessed with longevity, his impact and legacy are firmly established.

Ira was born and spent most of his life in the Chicago area where he attended high school and college, married, and was a 40-year postal service employee; but some of the most defining moments of his life were spent as a proud member of the "Fighting" 761st Tank Battalion during World War II. He shared many of his wartime experiences with others and continued to participate in monthly meetings and annual reunions with other members of the 761st Tank Battalion Association until his death.

The 761st Tank Battalion was activated in April, 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana and landed in France on the Normandy peninsula in the autumn of 1944. Under the direction of General George S. Patton, they spent 183 consecutive days in combat participating in numerous campaigns: Northern France, the Ardennes, the Rhineland, and Central Europe (known as the "Battle of the Bulge"). "The record of the 761st was exemplary. Those black soldiers earned 8 Silver Stars, 62 Bronze Stars, and 296 Purple Hearts, Trezzvant W. Anderson's book Come Out Fighting: The Epic Tale of the 761st Tank Battalion, 1942-1945." [Quoting Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, pg. 198.]

On March 11, 2000, the life of Ira W. Austin was celebrated in a service, thoughtfully arranged and executed by my brother Gary, which included United States Army Honor Guards and Members of the 761st Tank Battalion Association. Ira's extended family, (which included family members of his deceased wife, Virginia) friends, and acquaintances were also in attendance to express an affectionate farewell to a man who displayed bravery, a sense of honor, duty, and personal fortitude his entire life.

Carole Hayes Salter
August 15, 2000

Other references: We, Too, Proudly Served, 1995 Commemorative Calendar Honoring African-Americans of World War II, and Celebration of a Life, memorial service program for Ira W. Austin, March, 2000.