Brothers in Arms
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anthony Walton
Random House Large Print, (May 4, 2004)
Genre: Military History
A powerful wartime saga in the bestselling tradition of Flags of Our Fathers, BROTHERS IN ARMS recounts the extraordinary story of the 761st "Black Panthers," the first all-black armored unit to see combat in World War II.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar first learned about the battalion from family friend Leonard "Smitty" Smith, a veteran of the battalion. Working with acclaimed writer Anthony Walton, Abdul-Jabbar interviewed the surviving members of the battalion and their descendants to weave together a page-turning narrative based on their memories and stories, from basic training through the horrors on the battlefield to their postwar experiences in a racially divided America. Trained essentially as a public relations gesture to maintain the support of the black community for the war, the battalion was never intended to see battle. In fact, General Patton originally opposed their deployment, claiming African Americans couldn't think quickly enough to operate tanks in combat conditions. But the Allies were so desperate for trained tank personnel in the summer of 1944, following heavy casualties in the fields of France, that the battalion was called up.
While most combat troops fought on the front for a week or two before being rotated back, the men of the 761st served for more than six months, fighting heroically under Patton's Third Army at the Battle of the Bulge and in the Allies' final drive across France and Germany. Despite a casualty rate that approached 50 percent and an extreme shortage of personnel and equipment, the 761st would ultimately help liberate some thirty towns and villages, as well as the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp.
The racism that shadowed them during the war and the prejudice they faced upon their return home is an indelible part of their story. What shines through most of all, however, are the lasting bonds that united them as soldiers and brothers, the bravery they exhibited on the battlefield, and the quiet dignity and patriotism that defined their lives.
I believe it is time for America to meet the men of the 761st, common men who grew to become heroes, black men who fought for a country that often hated them, stalwart men who overcame social injustice to become men of colorblind valor. This first-of-its-kind book will…help them take their place as member of the greatest generation.
With these brief, moving words, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sets forth the feelings and the goals that inspired him to recount the courageous story of the 761st in Brothers in Arms. Jabbar first learned the story from his high school mentor and friend, Leonard “Smitty” Smith, a veteran of the Battalion. Working with acclaimed writer Anthony Walton, they interviewed the seventy surviving members of the battalion as well as battalion members' descendants to weave together a page-turning narrative based on their memories and stories, from basic training through the horrors of the battlefield, to their post-war experiences in a racially divided America. By the end of the war, the 761st—which Patton initially spurned, claiming Blacks weren't quick enough to maneuver tanks in battlefield situations—liberated some thirty towns and villages, as well as a concentration camp.
Known as “The Black Panthers,” the 761st Battalion was the first all-black tank battalion to see combat in the war. While most American units fought on the front for one to two weeks before being rotated back, the courageous men of the 761st served for more than 183 consecutive days, fighting under Patton's Third Army at the Battle of the Bulge, helping to turn back the German offensive and cut off German supply lines. They were in the vanguard of the American troops that liberated the concentration camp at Mauthausen—an effort that eventually won them recognition from the State of Israel. All this was accomplished despite a casualty rate that approached 50 percent and an extreme shortage of replacement personnel and equipment.
The unconscionable racism that shadowed these intrepid fighters during the war (black combat units were sometimes referred to as “Mrs. Roosevelt’s Niggers” because of her efforts to persuade the military to allow them to serve in combat) and the prejudices they faced when they returned home is never far from the surface of Brothers in Arms. What shines through most of all, however, are the bonds that united them as soldiers and brothers, the bravery they exhibited on the battlefield, and the quiet dignity and patriotism that defined their lives.
About the Authors
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Giant Steps. He learned about the 761st Battalion from his high school friend and mentor, Leonard Smith, who participated in the creation of this book. ANTHONY WALTON is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Mississippi, as well as the coauthor of Reverand Al Sharpton's book Go and Tell the Pharaoh.