historyThe history of the 761st Tank Battalion has been told a number of times, including books, starting with one titled Come Out Fighting that was written and self-published by the unit's enlisted members immediately after the end of World War II in Europe. The strength of the 761st Tank Battalion was proven during 183 days of continual fighting (including action in the Battle of the Bulge) after the Black Panthers became the first African-American armored unit to enter combat. Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers posthumously received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his extraordinary heroism in action. Warren G. H. Crecy received a battlefield commission and a recommendation for the Medal of Honor while earning his reputation as the Baddest Man in the 761st. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was an officer with the 761st Tank Battalion during training at Camp Hood, Texas, but he was prevented from going to Europe with his unit by a racial incident on a bus. An article in the January 1992 edition of Army magazine by Lt. Col. Philip W. Latimer describes his recollections of When the Black Panthers Prowled. Eventually, after delays caused by the deep racial prejudices of the time, the unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation by President Jimmy Carter. An oral history project interview with Staff Sergeant Floyd Dade, by The Urban School of San Francisco provides an interesting first hand account of a 761st Tanker's personal experiences. Cpl. Buddie V. Branch describes his recollections of being a 761st tanker in an interview with 761st Tank Battalion Historian Wayne D. Robinson.  An article about Cpl. Raleigh Hill by Greg Bischof titled Veteran helped make history from the February 25, 2007, edition of the Texarkana Gazette is re-published here with permission (and thanks.)   A January, 2009, feature story from the Southside Sentinel about Pvt. Raymond W. Burrell of Deltaville, Virginia, is republished here by permission.  Also, a feature article entitled Color Barrier Broken written by John Neville originally published in the Turret in February, 2007, is republished here by permission (with thanks to the author and the newspaper serving Fort Knox.) An article by Lt.Col. Roger Cunningham (USA-Ret.) originally published in the December 2004 issue of On Point magazine is republished here with the permission of (and with thanks to) the Army Historical Foundation.

dadeFloyd Dade, Jr.

This material is provided by and republished here with the permission of the Urban School of San Francisco's video oral history project known as Telling Their Stories.  Clicking on any of the interview text highlighted below will open the video at that point.


Date: May 12, 2004, San Francisco, California
Interviewers: Alex B, Alexander G, Irau B, Lindsey G, Sarah G, with Howard Levin and Deborah Dent-Samake

Date: January 18, 2006, San Francisco, California
Interviewers: Alex B and Liza M, with Howard Levin

Floyd Dade, Jr. was born on May 5th, 1924 is Texarkana, Texas. Sadly, he passed away on Sept. 27, 2006. Floyd grew up during the Depression and remembers his loving mother who helped feed those in need. Floyd was drafted into the army at the age of 18, and joined the 761st Tank Battalion, one of a few black groups sent to fight the Nazis in Europe. He recalls in great detail his wartime experiences including action at the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of the Rhine. Floyd was one of the early liberators of the Gunskirchen concentration camp where he witnessed the traumatic images of victims of Nazi brutality. It took Floyd fifty years to talk about the horrors he witnessed. He wanted students to know the history of the black tankers and of the Holocaust.

Introduction of Interviewers

My name is Alex, I am Alexander, my name is Irau, my name is Lindsey, my name is Sarah, and we are the Urban School and we are interviewing Floyd Dade on Wednesday May 12th in San Francisco.

My name's Liza, I'm Alex, and today we are interviewing Mr. Ford Dade, January 18th 2006 and we are in San Francisco California.

Can you please state and spell your name?

Floyd Dade, F-L-O-Y-D, Floyd, D-A-D-E, Dade.
What was your name at the time of birth?
Floyd Dade, Jr.
What is your birthday and how old are you now?
I'm 80 years old now. My birthday's May 5, 1924.
What was the city and country of your birth?
USA. Texarkana, Texas.

Can you please introduce yourself.

I'm Floyd Dade. I was born in Texarkana, Texas, raised in Texarkana, Arkansas, and drafted into the US Army my senior year of 1943. I went into an armoured division when I was drafted. I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky to get my tank training. From there, we came to Camp Hood—Fort Hood now—and took our advanced training. I was with the 761st Tank Battalion.

I got discharged after World War II in 1946. I got discharged in California, I got discharged and stayed in California with my sister. I had to finish my schooling. I went to City College and also to Elkhart, Indiana to finish my high school and get my college degree. After that I came back to San Francisco and that's where I started living after I got a job here as a ____ologist.

What is your earliest memory?

I guess the third grade. We were playing in the schoolyard, and some kid urinated behind a tree and he told the teacher that I did it. I got a spanking. I remember that very good, I didn't do that.

Do you remember anything else about your early school life and friends?

Elementary school–I was a good softball player. I loved to play softball and do the other sports when I was in the sixth grade and higher. Then I went on to be an excellent football player in high school, and baseball and softball.

What was your family life like when you were a child?

Family life? It was great. My mother and father—down south, he had a good job during the Depression—he worked with KCS Railroad. He had a lot of money coming in, about twenty-five dollars a week, and that was a lot of money. My mother was a farm girl. She kept the gardens. We had plenty fresh vegetables and everything. She fed the whole neighborhood when people ran short on groceries and so forth.

Did you have any siblings?

Yes. I had a sister, and a half brother.

What were their names?

Williola Dade and William Pearce Dade.

Did you get along with them?

Oh yes. The mother was the one I didn't get along with.

What else can you tell us about your mother?

About my mother? She did all of the licking, as a matter of fact she did all of the discipline. My father, he worked all the time, so she wasn't like the rest of the families: "I'll tell your father when he get home." She took care of the situation, "Johnnie-on-the-spot."

Do you have any specific memories about your mother, things she might have done for you that were memorable?

Yes, my mother she was a great lady. She didn't only raise us, she raised the neighborhood kids also. What she did at that time during the Depression, there was a lot of poor people, they weren’t as fortunate as we were. So my mother would make sure that they had plenty of food to eat. She'd make sure that they had clothing on their backs, and she made sure that they had a place to stay. I will say this, at her funeral, there was an old lady about ninety years of age—my mother died at seventy-five—she said, "This lady is my mother." She said, "What she did—I got tired of her coming by—I didn't get tired of her coming by, but she always wanted to know if I had enough groceries. She would get out of her truck, she'd come in the house and she would look in my cabinets and see what did I need and she would bring it to me, that she thought that I would need." So she had a mother figure, that lady at that age.

She had recreation for all of the high school kids—that we'd call hay rides and dances. She would sell ice cream and hot dogs and hamburgers. Nobody had the nickel or dime for the hamburgers or ice cream, but everybody ate ice cream and hamburgers.

What else can you tell us about the Depression and how it influenced your early life?

Being a kid, the Depression, it didn't affect my early life in a way that I remember because as a kid, all you know is your full every night and some people didn't have that privilege. We had nice clothing, the mother, she was able to sew. That was just about it.

Can you describe your high school?

My high school–the transition from elementary to high school–the kids are bigger when you go there with larger kids. You always have someone there, what they call "the bully." We had old Jake. We would fight our bully. He was trying to protect his territory and then we are coming in on his territory was a guy called Chuck. They would fight every morning going to school. On campus, everybody get together for the fight. But Chuck, he finally won. Jake, he stayed in the fifth grade I guess, about six years. That’s when they had, the old saying said, the reason they put him out in fifth grade because he wouldn't shave.

I went on to high school. Then I learned how to play football, baseball. The math and everything was getting a little bit tough, and the English and everything. But those black teachers, they really made us study hard. They didn't take any foolishness, like the kids do nowadays in school. Those black professors and teachers—the old principal, he'd put his foot in your behind, and if you didn't like it, you'd go home and tell you mother, then she would get on you. So you'd just keep your mouth shut and go and do what you had to do.

We didn't have telephones a lot. But if something happened on your way home from school, I don't know but your mother knew about it before you got there.

Did you enjoy school?

Oh yes.
Did you have a favorite class?
My favorite class was lunch. We had Miss Grant, she was the math teacher. We had her from the fourth grade all the way up to the eighth. Miss England, she was the history teacher. Triggy Jones was the football coach and our biology teacher, and he was a role model. Mr. Grundy, he was also the English teacher. Those were the teachers that we all wanted to be like when we grew up because we had a role model at school.

When the school became integrated, the black students, they lost all that image because they laid off a lot of the black teachers, then they integrated. The white teachers didn't know how to handle those black students.

How did segregation affect your high school experience?

Equal but separate. That meant we got all of the second hand books when the white schools had used them. Then when they were upgraded, the white students would get the new books, and we would get the used books. That went all the way down the line. If that's separate but equal, I don't think so. Like our football uniforms and everything, we got the used ones from the white schools because we wasn't able to buy our own uniforms. But yet still we put out a lot of good football players and basketball, and other players like that.

Can you take us back to when your school was integrated, where you in high school?

No, integration came son in '48. I was in high school in '43. I didn't get a chance to enjoy that, not at that particular time. When I went back to school, they were integrated.

Talk about this experience of segregation in high school.

I went to Washington High School, that was a black school, black teachers and everybody. We had a football team, all black. Then the white school, Arkansas High, they would come to our football games and we would go to theirs. When I went to the integrated school, we practiced football together and got on the same teams. As a matter of fact, the Army was integrated in '46, right after the war and I played football on an all white football team. Also, when I came to the states in '45, to reenlist, I played football at Fort Bliss, Texas. I was the only black on the team. So I just went in there and integrated myself. I was good enough, so they excepted me and I played.

Did you play against white schools?

Not officially. The white kids in the neighborhood—we were surrounded. I'll say this for example: we're down by the tracks, and they were up on the hills, they would come down, the kids—kids are wonderful—and we'd come down and we would play football and basketball and baseball. Over at this grocery store on Dudley, about eight or ten old white men would sit there chewing tobacco, watching us playing and spitting and going on. Then when we got to be around thirteen or fourteen, they said, "Well, you boys can't play like that anymore. You got to cut it out." So we didn't know what it meant, just figured they didn't want us to play, but the kids were doing wonderfully.

We would go to their football games and the white school would play. And then we would have a football game the teenagers, they would come over and watch us play, the boys would.

Were there any tensions or anything unique about playing against white kids?

No. We just played harder. They were tough and we were tough. We all was equal, we were just kids playing having a lot of fun. And you come out with a bloody nose, all you do is get up and rub it and smile and go back and try it again. And we got along very good. Kind of like when we was fighting, you know. We fought together, we died together and everything. I mean we could do everything together. I don't know where they got this prejudice from.

Was there a time where you did have a problem or a fight with a white kid because you guys were different races?

No, I was a peaceful fellow. I never had a fight with a white kid or black kid.

Can you recall any instances of struggle during your childhood with racism or depression?

With racism and depression and to get food on the table—I was a kid. My parents went through all that. I didn't have a chance to experience it because I was in school. What my parents had to do—I didn't have any problems with discrimination, because we had a car and my father had a good job—he worked for the railroad company, and he was paid good. My mother was a housewife, and she raised us and a lot of other kids in the neighborhood. She had gardens and everything—picture gardens—and then she would also feed a lot of the neighbors in the neighborhood. They didn't have welfare, but she took that role in helping the neighbors.

When the Black Panthers Prowled

Army Magazine, January 1992

By Lt. Col. Philip W. Latimer U.S. Army Reserve retired


He stood in the back of a half-track as he spoke to us. He was an imposing figure, and his voice rang out loud and clear: 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, so long as you go up there and kill those kraut SOBs. Everyone has his 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. The speaker, of course, was Gen. George S. Patton Jr., who commanded the Third Army in France. His audience was the 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion, and we had just arrived in the combat zone. I seem to remember that his speech was a lot saltier than it has been officially recorded. The trail to Nancy, France, had been a long and tedious one for the men of the 761st. It had taken a lot of work by Eleanor Roosevelt and prominent black leaders before any blacks were even considered for tank battalions in the completely segregated U.S. Army. Eventually, three battalions were formed: The 761st had trained at Camp Claiborne, La., and Camp Hood, Tex., before going to England and then to France. I was a white high school teacher of mathematics from rural east Texas when I was drafted into the Army in June 1941. I served as a private in the 3rd Armored Division and a sergeant in the 7th Armored Division before enrolling in Armor Officer Candidate School and becoming a second lieutenant in October 1942. 1 became a mortar platoon leader in the 12th Armored Division. In January 1943, all second lieutenants in the 12th were asked if they would be willing to serve with black tankers. I had grown up in an area where there had been many blacks and with parents who were not prejudiced. I was also a very patriotic person, and so I said yes because I felt that perhaps I was extremely well qualified to do this. It was July 1943 before I was finally transferred to the 761st, and by then I was a first lieutenant. It was not long before the 761st was transferred to Camp Hood, Tex., which was the home of the Tank Destroyer Center. We had been designated as the "enemy" for the center. Lt. Col. Paul L. Bates, our commanding officer, took great delight in showing tank destroyers that the Black Panthers were indeed a formidable opponent. Time after time, the tank destroyers were outmaneuvered and easily defeated. By this time, I was a captain and the battalion supply officer. I began to realize what a big job it was to supply ammunition, gasoline and rations to a battalion of more than 700 men with 54 medium tanks and 17 light tanks. My job was made much easier because my warrant officer and my enlisted men were as fine a group as any that ever put on an Army uniform. WO Mark Henderson, Sgt. Herman Waterford, Sgt. James Williams, Cpl. Milton Dorsey and Cpl. Billy Thompson were very loyal to me, and they also had a burning desire to see the battalion succeed. I also received outstanding support from the transportation platoon of Service Company, which was commanded by Lt. Horace Jones, whose battlefield commission had come about as a result of his outstanding performance. One of the sad parts of our training experience was the treatment received by our black tankers when they left the post area. These men were in the uniform of their country and were later to fight and some to die for their country. Even so, they were constantly mistreated and verbally abused by some elements of the civilian population. It is remarkable that they could continue to train diligently. The thing that kept them going was their determination to show the world that they could fight in tanks and win. The 761st received its baptism of fire shortly after the welcoming address by Gen. Patton. As green troops, we made a lot of mistakes in our early battles in Lorraine, but we learned from our mistakes and soon became seasoned veteran troops. The Germans gave ground slowly as they were gradually being driven out of Lorraine, and many deeds of heroism were recorded in the annals of the 761st. Outstanding in the early days were the stories of Sgt. Ruben Rivers and 1st Sgt. Samuel Turley. Sgt. Rivers left his tank under heavy enemy fire and was able to remove a roadblock, which was holding up our advance. He then led in the capture of the German position, which was defending the roadblock. When a platoon of our tanks was trapped by an antitank ditch, Sgt. Turley covered the escape of his men by firing a .30-caliber machine gun from his hip. His men escaped, but he paid with his life. Later, it was to be Sgt. Warren Crecy who became noted for his fearless fighting. He received a battlefield commission and lived to be a hero of the Korean War. It was at Honskirch that Capt. Charles A. Gates had a third tank shot out from under him when he had told the infantry commander that he was doing everything wrong insofar as the tanks were concerned. His Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart attest to his heroism and courage. The 761st became a part of the Third Army that rushed to Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge. At the little village of Tillet, we became involved in a tank battle that lasted for several days before the 12th SS Panzer Division retreated. Road conditions were so bad that our light tanks had to be used to bring up supplies. We were particularly impressed by the performance of the 17th Airborne Division to whom we were attached. In 1981, Gen. William M. Miley, commanding general of the 17th, wrote: My most vivid recollection of the 761st Tank Battalion was an action in support of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment. The regiment had been stopped in its attack on a well-fortified hill. When they regrouped to renew the attack, the attack was led by one of the companies of the 761st. They led the way up the hill with so much accurate fire that the hill was seized without the loss of a single airborne soldier. He also wrote: "During the Ardennes operation we had very little armored unit support, but of that we did have the 761st Tank Battalion was by far the most effective and helpful." In March 1945, the 761st led a successful task force, which cracked the Siegfried Line at Klingenmunster and forced the Germans to withdraw across the upper Rhine. The entire 14th Armored Division was then passed through to exploit a breakthrough that had been accomplished by this one tank battalion and a battalion of infantry from the 103rd Infantry Division. It was as an aftermath of this battle that my driver, Cpl. Dorsey, and I claimed the capture of a village in the Rhine plain. After Klingenmunster was secured, Col. Bates told me to go ahead to this village and choose a spot for our temporary headquarters. As we came into town, there was not a soul to be seen; however, we had not gone far before a German soldier stepped out and waved a white flag. It turned out that he was recovering from a wound and was incapable of putting up any fight. We realized that we were the first Americans to arrive here, and we looked apprehensively at a bunker at the far end of one street. It contained a large caliber weapon, which pointed menacingly in our direction. It took all our courage to advance even though we were fairly certain that the bunker was empty. We both breathed sighs of relief when we found this to be the case. The 761st never had any more battles as hectic as these in all of our march through the heartland of Germany and into Austria. V-E Day found us at the Enns River in Steyr, Austria, and it was here that we met the Russians. It turned out that we were the easternmost unit of all the Western Allied forces in Europe. The 761st Tank Battalion was recommended for a Presidential Unit Citation shortly after the end of the war. It was 33 years later before President Jimmy Carter made our dream a reality. The closing two sentences of this document say a great deal: The men of the 761st Tank Battalion, while serving as a separate battalion with the 26th, 71st, 79th, 87th, 95th, and 103rd Infantry Divisions, the 17th Airborne Division and Third, Seventh and Ninth Armies in 183 continuous days in battle, fought major engagements in six European countries, participated in four major Allied campaigns, and on 6 May 1945, as the easternmost American soldiers in Austria, ended their combat missions by joining with the First Ukranian (Front) (Russian) at the Enns River, Steyr, Austria. Throughout this period of combat, the courageous and professional actions of the members of the "Black Panther" battalion, coupled with their indomitable fighting spirit and devotion to duty, reflect great credit on the 761st Tank Battalion, the United States Army, and this Nation. In 1982, a group of 761st members returned to the battlefields of Lorraine and the Ardennes. Those of us who made the trip will never forget the reception we received. In the small villages that we had liberated, they did not even know that we were coming, but the news spread like wildfire. Unscheduled, enthusiastic celebrations followed one after another. We could not recognize landmarks since the destroyed villages had been rebuilt, but they certainly recognized us. It was a heartwarming experience and an emotional high that one seldom has the opportunity to experience. The 761st continues to have a reunion every year, and each reunion seems to be better than the one before. Our friendships have passed the test of time, and I thank God that I have the privilege of being one of those amazing Black Panthers.

Lt.Col. Latimer

Lt. Col. Philip W. Latimer, USAR retired, served during World War II as a Captain and Battalion Supply Officer with the 761st Tank Battalion. Photo, left, taken June 30, 1995, at the dedication of Rivers Processing Center, Fort Hood, Texas.

An Interview with Buddie V. Branch, "B" Company, 761st Tank Battalion

Part I: The Dayton Boys Go To War, By Wayne D. Robinson, 761st Tank Battalion Historian

Buddie V. Branch was inducted on August 9, 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was drafted along with Dayton childhood chums Odell Williams, Clarence Copeland, and Henry Middlebrooks. Another friend, Jovan Council, had been drafted a year earlier and sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.  Middlebrooks eventually served with the 784th Tank Battalion and was killed in combat. Williams and Copeland served alongside Branch in "B" Company of the 761st Tank Battalion.

After taking an apitude test at Fort Thomas in Covington, Kentucky, Branch was selected for training at the Armor School at Fort Knox Kentucky. There, he and his fellow recruits received training in the use of pistols, carbines, rifles, and basic operation and maintenance of the M4 Sherman Tank.

In November of 1943, Buddie was transferred to Camp Hood, Texas, and assigned to "B" Company of the 761st Tank Battalion.

"Fort Hood was where we trained on the Shermans in earnest. We had three companies of Shermans, 17 tanks apiece, plus one company of 17 light tanks, M-5 Stuarts. We lived on the tanks in the field. We went on tactical maneuvers, practiced gunnery with the 75mm main gun, fired the fifty caliber and thirty caliber machines guns, and learned to field strip and re-assemble the weapons blindfolded. Every man learned to fight as Loader, Driver, Gunner, and Co-Driver. My main job was Gunner, but we were also trained to take over as Tank Commander in case of trouble."

In June of 1944, Branch went home on leave for one week. When he returned to Hood, the Battalion had been alerted for overseas movement. Another month of intense combat training followed.

"In August of 1944 we boarded a troop train for Camp Shanks. When the train went through towns in Louisiana we had to draw the window shades because some white people would throw rocks at the train when they saw black G.I.s.

We sailed from New York Harbor to Dorset, England on August 27, 1944. When we landed in England on September 7, 1944, we drew brand new tanks and all the other gear. From there, we crossed the English Channel to Omaha Beach. There were wrecked trucks, tanks, and everything else all tangled up in the water. Seeing those knocked-out tanks was a real wake-up call."

The tankers spent two days preparing the vehicles for action, then made the 400-mile road march from Omaha Beach to St. Nicholas du Port, east of Nancy, France.

"We drove through all these towns, where the French people cheered us on in a most welcoming manner. When we got to Saint Nicholas, the rain and mud made for miserable going. We had to ignore the wet conditions, load armor piercing rounds, High Explosive rounds, thousands of rounds of machine gun ammo, not to mention tools, batteries for the radios, checking the radios, and cleaning and checking all weapons. We were working hard to make sure the tanks were ready for battle. We were less than fifty miles from the front lines. You could hear artillery, and sometimes even small-arms fire.

In the middle of all this, General Patton visited us one rainy day just before we went into combat. He said, "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 as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches." At the time, I thought he was a funny guy with the six guns and stuff, but hell, we didn't need him to tell us that. our motto was "Come Out Fighting." Didn't I tell you that?"

On the same day, we were joined by the war correspondent, Mr. Trezzvant Anderson. He stayed with us for the rest of the war and helped us to write the best book about the 761st, Come Out Fighting.

I will never forget the night before we went into battle. It got real cold. We checked and re-checked everything on the Sherman, then got together and said a prayer. Just then, Moses Ballard, our tank commander, came running back from a meeting at headquarters with Captain John Long, our company commander. He gathered us by the tank- me, George Gaffney, Driver; George Coleman, Loader, and a guy we called "Chops," the Assistant Driver. Ballard said we were going into a town called Morville. We had orders to support the infantry by killing any enemy troops, and blowing up anything that could be used for an observation post- steeples, high windows, everything. He told us to watch out for the infantry on our flanks, the Yankee Division guys."

Branch and "B" Company were assigned to one of two task forces going into the attack. The task force was led by Colonel Peter Kopcsak, commander of the 602nd Tank Destroyer Battalion, one of the first four tank destroyer battalions in the U.S. Army. Kopcsak had personally written the book on tank destroyer tactics at Camp Hood.

"At about five a.m, we climbed in the tank and moved out, just after a big artillery barrage. We had infantry and a Tank Destroyer outfit with us. I think "A" Company was somewhere on our right, "C' was on our left. At the time, we did not know much about where the other tankers were, but later on I heard the "C" Company tankers got hit pretty hard.

I remember when we moved out of St. Nicholas. The rain had turned to snow. Inside the tank, there was a steady grinding noise, a vibration though you the crew compartment. You couldn't hear anything because of the engine noise, except over the intercom. Ballard sat up and behind me. Coleman was on the left side of the gun, I sat on the other side. The driver and co-driver were down in the hull. Just as I pressed the tank helmet onto my head and braced my forehead against the browpad on the Gunner's sight, Ballard buttoned up, got on the intercom and ordered Coleman to "load H.E." Coleman pulled a round from the ready rack and slammed it into the breech. When I heard the breech slam shut, I knew we were getting ready to cut loose on that town.

From what I could see through my periscope, Morville was a mess. The Jerries were caught out in the open at first, because the noise of the artillery barrage covered our approach. I was ready to step on the firing switch when Ballard said: GUNNER- COAX- TROOPS. I answered IDENTIFIED. Ballard said FIRE. I said ON THE WAY, stepping on the foot trigger on the "Y" of WAY. We just tore them apart with the co-ax machine guns. Three other tanks were firing to our left. The combined tracer fire looked like a swarm of fiery bees. The Jerries ran for the buildings, I saw a bunch of overcoats trying to jump through basement windows. Some didn't make it."

Up ahead, the column was stalled when when the leading tank, commanded by Sgt. Roy King, was disabled by enemy anti-tank fire. According to Anderson, the Germans laid on mortar, anti-tank and artillery fire, setting the tank ablaze. When the crew attempted to bail out, King was killed by machine gun fire and tumbled into the street to the right side of the tank; Corporal Herbert Porter made it out despite severe wounds sustained inside the tank; Pfc. Nathaniel Ross was hit twice. Pvt. John McNeill and Tech 5 Jack Whitby crawled out through the tank's escape hatch in the bottom of the hull. They brought their submachine guns and used them to kill Germans attempting to fire an anti-tank gun. Whitby re-entered the burning tank and opened fire with the coax machine gun, enabling the task force to pass through the center of town.

"Ballard told Gaffney to hit the gas and we rolled right through the other side of town. There was a roadblock; the Sherman busted through like it was on rails. In the turret, there was a smell sort of like cap gun smoke. Coleman opened the pistol port, then reached over and tapped me on the shoulder, motioning for me to look left. I stood on my seat and squeezed up to where Ballard made room in the commander's hatch so I could look out to the side. We passed a halftrack with five dead GIs in the back, sitting there looking normal, except they were burned up.

At the time, I did not pause to think much about what we had done. That came later. We were lucky to drive through the town without getting hit by an 88 or a mortar."

Lt. Robinson

On July 6, 1944, one of the 761st's few black officers, Lieutenant Jackie Robinson, was riding a civilian bus from Camp Hood to the nearby town of Belton. He refused to move to the back of the bus when told to do so by the driver. Court-martial charges ensued but could not proceed because the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Paul L. Bates, would not consent to the charges. The top brass at Camp Hood then transferred Robinson to the 758th Tank Battalion, whose commander signed the court-martial consent. The lieutenant's trial opened on August 2 and lasted for 17 days, and during that time the 761st departed Camp Hood. Robinson was eventually acquitted. Three years later, Robinson was riding buses in the major leagues after breaking baseball's color barrier.  An article in the Spring 2008 edition (Vol. 40, No. 1) of the National Archives publication Prologue provides a detailed description and documents relating to the story of Lieutenant Jackie Robinson's battle with Jim Crow in the military and later in civilian life. Click here to see the original article at National Archives website. The first paragraphs of the article are quoted below:


As Allied troops continued their drive into the heart of Europe a month after the D-day landing in 1944, an incident that would provide a preview of post–World War II events in America was unfolding in Texas.

A young African American Army officer attached to an all-black unit at Camp Hood was subjected to a general court-martial — for resisting usual southern protocol and refusing to move to the back of the bus on the military post when directed by the driver to do so.

The trial of the young officer at Camp (now Fort) Hood received little notice at the time, but his action — refusing to go to the "back of the bus" — would become a symbolic act of the civil rights movement in the decades following the war.

And the young lieutenant would gain some valuable training for a later role as a pioneer in securing equal rights for black Americans in sports — already showing the same qualities that would make him great on the playing field and elsewhere: physical and emotional valor; strength of character; and fierce, unyielding determination to confront and conquer racism.

Second Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson was beginning to make history, well before 1947, when he became the first person of his race to play in baseball's major leagues. The sports part of Robinson's story has been exceedingly well documented, so it is understandable that the periods immediately preceding and following that phase of life have atttracted relatively little public attention.

More than 60 years later, there is still not complete consensus on exactly what happened in 1944 and why. But Robinson's gutsy action foreshadowed subsequent baseball diamond conduct and served notice on the military, which would begin desegregating in 1948, and the world that here was a black man unwilling to take even a modicum of racial guff.


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Lt. Robinson