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Many may lay claim to the “Black Panthers” name, but the 761st Tank Battalion of World War II, were one of the first groups to use it. The tank unit is considered by the U.S. Army as the first Black armed tank unit to enter combat during World War II.

The 761st was comprised of 30 Black officers, six white officers and 676 enlisted men. From their formation in March 15,1942 to 1945, the group was integrated and remained so up until 1955. The unit was among the first Black troops to enter combat when they stormed Omaha Beach in France.

Despite displaying their battle prowess and living up to their motto “Come Out Fighting,” General George Patton still had doubts about the troops and didn’t think they were fit to lead. However, Patton had to eat his words after the troops won victory after victory, prompting him to speak to the 761st and delivering this rousing speech:

“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 sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you. Don’t let them down and damn you, don’t let me down!”

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar authored the book Brothers In Arms: Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion calling the group the “most effective” unit that Gen. Patton commanded. Certainly, their presence in the war helped as they were often called upon to assist troops on the losing end of battles.

Baseball Hall of Fame legend Jackie Robinson was a member of the 761st but never saw combat overseas. In 1944, he was court-martialed for refusing to head to a back of a bus driven by a civilian at Fort Hood, Texas.

A film was said to be in the works regarding the 761st with Abdul-Jabbar and Denzel Washington mentioned as names involved in the project.

(Photo: U.S. Military)

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Little Known Black History Fact: 761st Tank Battalion  was originally published on