761 st was activated 1 April 1942. During the first year, no one
expected the battalion to see combat, but in may of 1943 Major Paul
Bates became commander. He told the black tankers that they would
see combat and started to train them for war. Every man had to learn
to operate every gun and every vehicle. The 761st move to Camp Hood
and there the German POWs had Post Exchange rights and were treated
better than the black soldiers. Racism was all around on and off the
The that Black Panthers As they call themselves, were deployed as
the opposition, to train other tank and tank destroyer units. The
761st regularly won. After over two years of training the 761st was
ordered to overseas deployment on 9 June 1944, and arrived in
England on 8 September for more training in new tanks.
On 8 November 1944, the 761st entered combat in France for the first
of 183 days of continuous combat. The first combat was alongside the
26 Infantry (The Yankee Division). Colonel Bates was wounded on the
first day of combat and was replaced by Colonel Hollis E. Hunt. In
the first 11 days of combat Sargent Ruben Rivers was wounded twice,
but refused to be evacuated. He was killed in action on 19 November,
while saving his unit. He was awarded the Silver Star, which was
upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 1977. In the first month of
combat, 25 men were killed in action and many more were wounded.
Only nine more men were killed in action during the five months of
the rest of the war. Total wounded were 22 officers and 180 enlisted
men, with eight men wounded more than once.
Then came the Battle of the Bulge starting on 16 December. The 761st
was always attacking, and General Patton said "The Negro tank
battalion attached to my command fought bravely in the critical
battle of Bastogne." General William Miley, commander of the 17th
Armored Division said, "During the Ardennes operation, we had very
little armored unit support, but of what we had, the 761st was by
far the most effective and helpful."
Colonel Bates returned to command 17 February 1945. For the rest of
the war the Black Panthers were always on the attack. The bravery of
these men was amazing, as was their dedication to duty. Wille J.
Devore believed he would be killed even before he got on the boat to
Europe, but he did his duty. He was one of the last of the Black
Panthers die in action.
The Germans called them schwarze soldaten (black soldiers). " Do not
take any black tankers prisoners: Kill them." The 761st met the
Russians 5 May 1945 in Steyr, Austria, at the war's end.
The achievements of the 761st tank battalion were among the reasons
why President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948.