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.
June 6, 1944, was the date of the most massive and complex operation ever attempted by an armed force on earth, and its success continues to reverberate. Fans of Saving Private Ryan have an opportunity with this 60th anniversary to dig deeper into the landing and its legacy, as well as other acts of heroism and everyday soldiering during the war. BROTHERS IN ARMS: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten HeroesKareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton. Broadway, (320p) The six-time NBA most valuable player teams up with Mississippi author Walton, who coauthored Al Sharpton's Go and Tell Pharaoh. Their chronicle of Patton's Third Army stalwarts takes in the all-black tank battalion's 183 days on the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge, with casualty rates of almost 50%, an almost impossible supply situation, sometimes inept leadership and chronic racism that inflected nearly every move they made. The third-person narrative reflects the intimacy Jabbar has with Leonard "Smitty" Smith, the loader on a 761st tank crew, with episodes and anecdotes that feel immediate and a wealth of visual and tactical detail about what it was like to work, and often live, on the inside of a tank. The authors widen the scope repeatedly to give a nuanced account of the 676 enlisted men and 36 officers of the battalion and its place in the Third Army. While it will leave aficionados satisfied, this is military history that will prove compelling to anyone with an interest in black men's experience during the 20th century. The group's liberation of Mauthausen concentration camp is covered in a few pages, but its heroism is on display throughout. 6-city author tour. Jabbar's agent: Frank Weimann at The Literary Group; Walton's agent: Sloan Harris at ICM. (On sale May 4)
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Explains the hard times African Americans faced in the army during WWII