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761st Tank Battalion
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Can you please expand on the impact of the 761 Battalion with the war?
It was sad, our battalion commander, he got wounded the first day. We had a replacement called Colonel Hunt, that was his name. Our battalion commander didn't come back until we got down to the Battle of the Bulge and the Task Force Rhine, which he was in charge of. Sergeant Rivers, one of the platoon sergeants, he got killed.
Sergeant Rivers, he got wounded. His tank hit a landmine, and it split his thigh, from his knee cap all the way up his hip. They came up and they said that "If you have a billion dollar wound, you can go back home." So he would go. Captain William came up, the medics worked on him. They said, "Should we send him back, or you want to get back into another tank?" So he took one of his other tanks from another sergeant, and he crawled back in. The next day we had a battle. I was about 25 yards from him in my tank. As we were battling, Sergeant Rivers got hit. When the Germans opened up on us, we were fighting each other like hell. They told Rivers, "We are out numbered, there are five tanks out there. Back out." He said, "No, I see them, I'm going to engage them." So the next shot came in on this turret, just took his head off. So Captain William, he felt guilty, so he came to Colonel Hunt and he said, "I want to put Rivers in for a Medal of Honor." He said, "What do you mean, a Medal of Honor?" He said, "He got the silver star. We are not supposed to give them no more than a bronze star anyway. He got more than he deserved." That was the attitude that was given to us. Captain William, he was one of the white officers that we had—we had seven—he was a little Irish man. But he kept fighting and fighting until he finally got Rivers a Medal of Honor. But it took a lot of doing. Every time the request would get lost. They would follow in the circle, wow, just throw it. When they give it to Hunt that evening, he just threw it in the garbage can.
So as time went on, we just kept battling, doing what we had to do. There was one incident that we had been hit pretty hard. I guess we had about seventy men out wounded and hospitalized. When we were going down there to the Bulge, and they were reading about it in the Stars and Stripes, and we really didn't think of all that. They knew that we were shorthanded about ten tanks. By them being wounded, the tanks weren't operating. The hospital wouldn't release them, they said they wanted to be released. They'd tell them, "Nope, nope." They wouldn't discharge them. So what they did, they comandeered two trucks and they took off, and they came to us, and they found us. Three cars of MP's were chasing them.
These were members of your battalion?
They escaped the hospital to come back to the battalion?
Yes. And this captain came in the tent where our Colonel was, he told them he wanted to throw them in court-martial. They just stole a truck and they were running away. He went out there and looked, the other guys were. He said, "Captain, these men are not running from the fight, they are coming to fight, so you get the hell out of here!" And he took off. That was one of the moments that was kind of touching.
Then when we was coming down into the Bulge, the first thing that happened—we arrived at night. We were traveling day and night, day and night until we got there. They told Patton, "Get there as quick as you can get there, and give the men a day of rest." And Patton said, "Hell, they don't need no rest." And we didn't. That night captain told us to bed down. Everybody heated up—there was a garbage can, they had a little beans and eggs and ham, stuff like that that you ate, we warmed it up in the garbage can. Then the guys—first you have to take care of the tank. You have to clean it up, you have to make sure that its oiled, has plenty of gas, and ammunition. We loaded it up for battle and all that. We'd load it, greased it, cleaned the gun. You had to take care of that stuff so it would always be functioning properly. You don't want to miss-fire when you get there. Here came a little lieutenant, clean and shaved, and we all looked like tramps with beards—all dirty, from the battle and all that stuff. Some of them might have been battle fatigued. He said,"Colonel," the one over in this division—I don't know if it was the 71st or 87th. He said, "He wants you to report to him now." Captain Willliam looked up and said, "What? pardon me?" He said, "He sent me to lead you guys to come over to his headquarters now." He said, "No, we're not coming now. We'll be there tomorrow morning, early. See, these men just traveled from France and got here," and said, "as long as they're bed-in, I'm not going to wake them up, I'm not going to disturb them."
He went back and he told him. So then William met with him, he and his driver in the jeep. He told them, "Here we are." He started swearing at him, says, "I sent for you last night." He said, "Naw." He explained the situation to him. And he said, "I'll have the whole damn bunch of you court-martialed!" And the guys we called Big Kip, his driver. he was standing there, he was a corporal. He said, "You and who else, Colonel?" "With all the fire power we got, do you think we're going to sit here and take that bullshit?" So he calmed down. "Well, some of these guys come in here and they get lost. I thought maybe you going to get lost and wouldn't come in. And the tanks wouldn't start, and all of that." He said, "Man, we've been fighting for a couple of months already." He said, "We know where we are. We had to do our duty. There's nobody here running and not going to come and get lost, we are know how read maps." He kind of squirmed about that, but went on to give us our assignment.
We got there on the 29th. So New Year's Day, New Years the next day, we took two little towns on the left flank of Bastogne, because we were trying to work our way to the middle and to the roads and highways that led into Bastogne. Bastogne was kind of like an octopus. It had four or five roads and railroads leading into it. Our job was to get up there and knock out the German supplies, separate them, and not let them join up with the other Army that's coming in to join them. And that's what we did. We blocked the railroads and the roads. We did a good job. Especially in a little town called Tillet, that's were they had most of their supplies. They had four ammunitions up there. We had one sergeant, Sergeant Stevens, he caught a German convoy, about ten trunks and a couple of hundred troops and four tanks. His platoon, they knocked those guys out and cluttered up the highways. Then they took those prisoners. But we fought, fought, fought down in the Bastogne. After that, we went into the Ardenes—I'm sorry, into the Rhine, we were alredady in the Ardennes.
Did your troop battalion have the same uniforms as white troop battalions?
Oh, yes. We were the same army, just segregated, that's all. They might of had some better equipment and training. That would have been the only thing. They got better supplies, like food. They'd get better supplies than we would. We got a lot of second hand uniforms that they had used, they were passed on down to us.
How did you know they were passed down to you?
Because they had been used.
How would you make time go by faster while you were fighting?
Go to sleep.
You would sleep as much as you could?
When they were firing on us, that's when I'd go to sleep. Then when they'd stop firing, that's when they're advancing. That's when you had to get up and do your thing. See, they were already fortified. We were coming in to get them out of there. We were on the offense and they were on the defense. You know, like a football game? Trying to make a touchdown, and we want to stop you from making it. So that's what they were doing, they were dug in everywhere, in all those places. Just firing at us. No use in sitting up and being nervous because they were not advancing yet, not until you stop firing. Then they cease firing. We'd do the same thing. But with our artillery, we'd start advancing, we got fired on a lot of times by are own artillery. They call it "walking it up. slow as you go." But, we went too fast, we were advancing too fast, then they'd start dropping it on us. They said, "Raise it, raise it, man, you are dropping it on us." "Well, you're going too fast." So that was a problem we had about that. Sometimes we'd get hit, and sometimes we got lucky and we wouldn't. So then you could see the infantry marching along with you as you advanced. The Germans would do the same thing. So when they stopped firing, I would wake up.
What was your feeling towards General Patton?
General Patton, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have been there. General Patton loved his tanks. I was reading an article, shortly after D-Day, that the colonel of—maybe it was the 6th Armoured Division. The Germans surrounded him and they fought for a couple of days. We lost about seventy or eighty tanks in that battle. But he got out of that. About a couple of months later, before they sent for us, this German general, they surrounded this armoured division again. The old colonel said, "Poor bastard. He don't know what he's doing." But that turned out not to be where he was. We lost 260 tanks. Tankers are not easy to train. So he finally fought his way out of that one. That's when Patton had already put a request in for us. He said, "Get us there. Send the best damn tank battalion you have over there. I mean now." Next thing you know, we were packing up and on our way.
Then Patton—we saw him once or twice. He came and spoke to us. He said, "I don't give a damn what color you are." He says, "You wonder why you're here. I sent for you." He said, "Your people are watching you, and by golly, don't you let them down, and damn you, don't you let me down." He talked to us that day with that speech. Then we went into battle when he left. A couple of days later, that's when we started fighting.
Back to Patton again—skipping over a lot—going back down to the Bulge, when the Germans had kept a lot of our soldiers and equipment, they dressed the German soldiers up in American uniforms. They would get on these checkpoints directing the traffic, telling you which way to go, this highway and that way. Where the fighting is this way, and this way they're all done. But they would send the guys down that way, and they would ambush them when they come down. They told Patton about that. "George, man, they got us tricked. They are sending the troops the wrong way." Patton said, "That's no problem. Put a black on there. And if the son of a bitch 'aint black, shoot him." So he solved that problem real quick. They started getting those trucking companies and sending up some back MPs. They put them on the check points. But they did it for a couple of days, and it worked. Going the wrong way. A lot of you heard about that gasoline dump, when the Germans ran out of gasoline. They were trying to get to our depot.
Did you have a lot of respect for Patton?
Oh, you had to respect the man. Eisenhower didn't. Patton had to fight for his rights. Between Montgomery and Patton, Eisenhower was tring to make up his mind. Should he give the supplies and equipment to Montgomery or to Patton. Montgomery wanted to the Rhineland first, and Patton wanted to get there first. If we pushed the Germans across the Rhine, that would be a big mark in history. At the end, that's where we pushed them, to see who got there first. Patton got there a day ahead of Montgomery.
Now in the Battle of the Rhine, I didn't get to tell you about it, I don't think. Our battalion commander, Colonel Bates, he was in charge of the Task Force Rhine. That was everybody. That was the first time that the 761st tank battalion had a chance to fight together as one. As we were leading it in the Rhineland—I had some guy come up to me the other day. He said, "I remember you guys. Patton told somebody not to come over there and get the Germans out of the trap, but I told somebody just to leave us there and not to come over and get us out of there. But you guys came over and saved us and got us out anyway." I told him, "Yep. I don't remember that. But it probably happened."