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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

lessons from the 761st tank battalion. - A tribute to Black History Month.

Download The Full Audio MP3 below: Right click then "Save Target As"

“They gave a good first impression, but I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the race. Individually they were good soldiers, but I expressed my belief at the time, and have never found the necessity of changing it, that a colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor.” General George S. Patton Jr. [1]

General Patton made these remarks after giving a speech to the 761st tank division during and after World War II. The day before the division entered the war, General Patton assembled the troops there and gave them a short and frank pep-talk. The 761st was the first black fighting tank division in the United States Armed forces. This short article reflects on those men and the situation they found themselves in back in the 1940’s. My hope is that reading this article will remind us of what we are capable of as Americans in light of the financial crisis we find ourselves in.

First it’s important to understand how and why these African Americans were assembled before who many consider to be one of the greatest military minds of our time. They were there purely of their own volition. They volunteered because as one of the 761st veterans puts it, “This was our country too.” Second, the United States (especially the south where these men enlisted) was pretty segregated. Another veteran noted that as he was heading off to enlist, his friends and family told him to be careful because they hang black folks down there [2]. As I listened to an interview with numerous members of the 761st, I was struck by the fact that they all expected to find an Army that would look past color, I suppose I would too. Instead what they found was an Army that didn’t want them. In fact during their training, most of them only saw one white person: Their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Paul L. Bates. After the first black regiment was trained, all the people doing the training left, except for Colonel Bates, and so the 761st battalion was left to their own devices. Bates volunteered to lead the 761st for two reasons: First the armed forces would not allow a black man to have a command. Second, Bates was against segregation and wanted those black servicemen to have a friendly face.

In the time leading up to combat, they trained hard and they trained long. Even though they knew the Army did not want black people on the battlefield: The black man was an inferior fighter and white servicemen did not want to serve next to them. Remarkably they didn’t loose hope and continued training harder; they knew they would be judged by “a higher standard” and that their chance would come to prove themselves.[3] I know, working harder doesn’t sound that remarkable, and yet it has been forgotten by a lot of people in our society; we want something for nothing. We have forgotten that our fellow citizens owe us nothing and that even if no one comes to our aid in life, we are still duty-bound to try harder. It is interesting that the Army’s reluctance to put African Americans on the battlefield, lead to the silent creation of one of the best fighting tank battalions in the war. The Tuskegee Airmen (the first black military airmen) had a similar story. Their flight record was so distinguished that white pilots flying bombers would ask for the “colored pilots” to escort them in to hostile air space.

The 761st did get their chance when General Patton decided to use them to provide cover for infantrymen. Their hard work culminated with a visit from General Patton himself. Patton stood atop a ‘Halftrack” and said the following to the gathered men:

“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 as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut [SOB’s]. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down!”[4]

So off to battle they went and prove themselves they did. The following represents only some of their accomplishments:[5]

• Medal of Honor for Ruben Rivers.
• Presidential Unit Citation by President Jimmy Carter on January 24, 1978.
• Warren G. H. Crecy was nominated for the Medal of Honor and received a battlefield commission.
• 11 silver stars.
• 69 bronze stars.
• They fought in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, and Austria.

Our country now faces some very serious difficulties. These difficulties touch the lives of every American in some fashion. What will we do? What will you do? Many have taken the route of holding their hands out waiting for the government to save them. All the while demanding that they be saved! May we learn the lessons of the 761st tank battalion who were never given anything and expected nothing. In the face of real adversity they worked hard and prepared, looking for opportunity to serve their country and represent their race. Allow me to make the observation here that black Americans historically have risen to every challenge, particularly when they were given nothing and expected nothing. From the 761st to the Tuskegee Airmen and the civil rights movement. On the other hand, and this goes for all of us, when we are taught to feel entitled, that is the moment we falter and our human dignity evaporates.

We would do well to learn from the men of the 761st and to apply these lessons to our lives. To my fellow Americans who have lost their jobs and who may feel down in the dumps right now, may the words of Patton re-ignite a fire within us to try harder and face adversity in life with courage.

General Patton is, “…expecting great things from you. Most of all your [family] is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down!”

Danian Michael
Political Agenda

Foot notes:

[1] “War as I knew It.” by George S. Patton.
[2] “First to fight. The black tankers of WW II.” From the history channel.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Come out fighting – The epic tale of the 761st tank battalion. 1942-1945.” By Trezzant W. Anderson
[5] Ibid.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Danian:

I found this segment to be very informative about the 761st. Tank Battalion.
Since I was a little girl I have never understood... what in the world does the color of a person have to do with what is inside his heart?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could go back to judging one on their character and not on skin color or what clothes they wear. Now, THAT would really be a benchmark.

Maybe that is why we "the nation" are going through what we are going through... right now. Maybe, God is trying to get our attention and that alll of the things that our nation thinks is important: race, money, beauty, blah, blah, blah... isn't important at all. My what a novel concept.

Ohhh, if we could just learn this lesson.

Mrs. O

I think the footnotes were helpful to give credence to your story.

February 26, 2009 at 9:43 PM  
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