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Remembering the 761st--and Jackie Robinson


Date published: 2/20/2014

Remembering the 761st--and Jackie Robinson

Everyone is pretty much aware of the "Red Tails," the famous black fighter pilots of World War II fame. But there was also a black tank battalion from that same historical era.

On July 6, 1944, 25-year-old 2nd Lt. Jack Roosevelt Robinson of the 761st "Black Panthers" Tank Battalion left the hospital at Fort Hood, Texas, after a checkup.

Bound for the "Colored Officers' Club," he boarded an Army bus and sat with a fellow officer's light-skinned spouse. The driver, a white man, ordered Robinson to the back of the bus. When Robinson balked, the driver called military policemen. MPs arrested, handcuffed and shackled Lt. Robinson.

When Robinson's commander refused to press charges, the Army moved him to a unit whose commander was willing to convene a court-martial, adding a charge that the teetotaling tanker had been drunk in public to charges of disobedience and disrespect.

By the time his trial had begun, the charges against him had withered to two counts of insubordination. The court acquitted him, but the whole affair kept Lt. Robinson stateside when the 761st became the first African-American tank unit to see combat during the war.

In 1947, Lt. Robinson received an honorable discharge. In April 1947, as a Brooklyn Dodger, he desegregated Major League Baseball. He died in 1972.

Will Ross

Fauquier