If you were Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, commander of the Third Army, who would you want leading your attack against the Nazis? The 761st Tank Battalion!
The 761st shoulder patch had a side view of a black panther with their motto, “Come Out Fighting.” As an African-American tank battalion, they came out fighting. They were two decades before Huey Newton’s Blank Panthers in Oakland, Calif.
Are you a baseball fan? I mean are you a real baseball fan? Do you know the name of the first African-American to sign with a modern era Major League Baseball team? Jackie Robinson was signed by Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn (LA) Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947.
In 1943, 1st Lt. Jackie Robinson trained with the 761st until he was told by a white bus driver, “Sit in the back of my bus!” Robinson didn’t move. His Battalion Commander, Lt. Colonel Paul L. Bates, refused to court-martial Lt. Robinson. The lieutenant was transferred to the 758th Tank Regiment and court-martialed. Nine white officers acquitted him of all charges.
On Nov. 10, 1944, a 761st tank commander, Sgt. Warren G. H. Crecy, came to the aid of GIs with his tank until his tank was hit and destroyed. He commandeered a vehicle with a .30-caliber machine gun and eliminated the German forward observer who was directing artillery fire on his men.
Next, Sgt. Crecy manned a replacement tank which got stuck in heavy mud. He exited the tank to receive machine gun and artillery fire. He used the tank’s .50-caliber machine gun forcing the enemy to withdraw. When the smoke cleared, the “quiet, easy going, baby faced” sergeant had destroyed a number of machine gun nests and an antitank position with only a machine gun. His men had difficulty getting him to let go of his weapon. He received a battlefield commission and was nominated for the Medal of Honor. His men named him the “Baddest Man in the 761st.” Looks can be deceiving. Years later, he retired as a Major.
Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers was born in 1921, Tecumseh, Okla. Ruben lived with his 11 siblings and parents on the family’s farm. He trained with the 761st at Fort Hood, Texas. On Nov. 18, 1944, he received a shrapnel wound tearing his leg from the knee to his thigh, “a million-dollar wound,” the war was over for Ruben. Wrong! Ruben gave himself a morphine injection. The next day in great pain with a serious infection, he led his tank into Bougaltroff where the 761st came under heavy fire. Ruben and another tank fired at the enemy to cover the other tanks’ retreat. Two high-explosive shells hit Rivers’ tank, killing him instantly.
During World War II, there were 433 Medals of Honor awarded. More than a million African-Americans served during the war. No African-Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor. Five decades later, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to the families of six African-American servicemen. Grace Woodfork, one of Ruben’s sisters, received Ruben’s medal in his stead.
Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers is resting with 10,476 males and 11 females in the largest World War II American Cemetery, the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, 113.5 acres, in St. Avoid, Moselle, France. This cemetery has four Medal of Honor awardees and 30 sets of brothers resting together.
If you have a relative or someone you know is one of the 218,000 individuals buried or memorialized at an American Battle Monuments Cemetery, Google “Search ABMC Burials.” On the right side, there’s a rectangular shape. Enter their last name and click search. Scroll through the names listed and click on the name you know. Not only will you discover which cemetery, you will know the plot, the row and the grave number. If you Google the name of their cemetery, you will have the superintendent’s contact information. Since most ABM cemeteries are nine time zones ahead of Pacific time, email might be better. Ask the superintendent who to contact to have flowers placed on their grave and the approximate cost in Euros converted to dollars. Your Visa credit card is accepted worldwide. A friend had a floral arrangement delivered to her great-uncle’s grave marker in the World War I Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The superintendent emailed her a picture of her flowers in front of her great-uncle’s grave marker, a touching surprise.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.