Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07) have introduced legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 761st Tank Battalion, known in World War II as the “Black Panthers.”
The unit served as part of General George Patton’s Third Army and was the first Black American armored unit in military history.
“The 761st Tank Battalion occupies a special place in American history for their remarkable courage, both in battle and in breaking new ground for black soldiers in our country,” said Palmer in a statement released by his office.
“Black soldiers served America with distinction in every war since the American Revolution, but discrimination remained an issue in the military, including during World War II. Known as the ‘Black Panthers,’ their motto was ‘Come out fighting,’ and they lived up to it. In 1944, the 761st [was] assigned to General S. Patton’s 3rd Army. In early November 1944, the 761st entered combat and remained on the front lines for 183 straight days, spearheading a number of Patton’s moves toward Germany, including being the first American unit to break through Germany’s Siegfried Line."
In October of 1944, the 761st Tank Battalion became the first African American tank squad to see combat in World War II. By the end of the war, the Black Panthers had fought their way further east than nearly every other unit from the United States, receiving 391 decorations for heroism. The unit fought in France and Belgium and was one of the first American battalions to meet the Russian Army in Austria. They also broke through Nazi Germany’s Siegfried line, allowing the Third Army to enter Germany.
During the war, the 761st participated in four major Allied campaigns including the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German World War II campaign on the Western Front. Germany’s defeat in this battle is widely credited with turning the tide of the war towards an Allied victory
The 761st Tank Battalion was formed in the spring of 1942 and, according to Army historical records, had 30 Black officers, six White officers, and 676 enlisted men.
Patton is reported to have welcomed the unit into his command by saying, “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. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you … Don’t let them down and damn you, don’t let me down!”
After the war, the Army awarded the unit with four campaign ribbons. In addition, the men of the 761st received a total of 11 Silver Stars, 69 Bronze Stars and an estimated 300 Purple Hearts.
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