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Memorial to honor World War II-era armored unit

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Posted: Sunday, October 30, 2005 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:14 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Jimmie Ferguson

Killeen Daily Herald

Twelve veterans of World War IIs storied Black Panthers battalion will attend Nov. 10s unveiling at Fort Hood of the 761st Tank Battalion Monument.

The memorial is a decade-old dream of the Central Texas Memorial Chapter of the 761st Tank Battalion & Allied Veterans Association.

The 761st Tank Battalion, nicknamed the Black Panthers, was the first African-American armored unit to go into combat during World War II.

The unit whose motto is 183 days to victory was the African-American armored unit assigned to Gen. George Pattons Third Army, said Monica Smith, speaking for the association.

Trained at then-Camp Hood from September 1943 to August 1944, the 761st Tank Battalion was a segregated unit of predominantly black soldiers. The men fought in France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria.

The Black Panthers endured 183 continuous days on the front line, compared to a normal 10- to 15-day rotation for other tank battalions, Smith said. The 761st Tank Battalion participated in four major allied campaigns, including the famous Battle of the Bulge.

The Black Panthers were awarded 300 Purple Hearts, 70 Bronze Stars and 11 Silver Stars.

On Jan. 13, 1997, Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers, a member of the 761st Tank Battalion, was posthumously presented the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Rivers, a tank commander, was severely wounded by an anti-tank mine on Nov. 16, 1944, while advancing through France.

Rivers refused medical evacuation from the battlefield, commandeered a second tank and continued to fight.

Three days later, Rivers was firing on enemy tanks while covering his units withdrawal to safer ground when his tank was hit and he was killed near Bougaltroff, France. He had turned 26 years old just days before his death.

The Nov. 10 memorial unveiling at Fort Hood Memorial Park starts at 1 p.m. and is opened to the public.

This is not black history. This is American history, Smith said. So, come out and see history unveil, meet the soldiers who fought for 183 consecutive days and who endured the historical Battle of the Bulge.

To cap the day off, the Association is also hosting a banquet, featuring the Honorable U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston; and the vocal artist Wintley A. Phipps.

The banquet will be held at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center kicking off with a social at 6:30 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. dinner. The attire is coat and tie. A donation of $50 each is requested.

Tickets are available up to Nov. 9 and are available by contacting Robert Davis at 547-2676, Wil Byrd at 289-0236, Phyllis Mitchell at 289-0716 or Under One Roof at 554-6553.

Contact Jimmie Ferguson at jferguson@kdhnews.com

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