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Sunday, November 3, 2019

BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton

Published in 2004 by Books on Tape.
Read by Richard Allen.
Duration: 9 hours, 39 minutes.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is most famous as a basketball player - in high school his team won 71 games in a row. He won three national championships in the three seasons he was allowed to play in college (freshmen had to play on a freshman team back then so his first season doesn't count). No one scored more career points in the NBA than Abdul-Jabbar. He is arguably the best basketball player ever.

Turns out that he is also a thoughtful, active man with an interest in social justice and history. That's where this book comes in. The 761st Tank Battalion was brought to his attention because, it turns out, he knew one of its members growing up - he just didn't know his story.

The problem is, no one really knew the story of these young men - and they should.

The 761st Tank Battalion was one of the lead elements of General Patton's push into Germany during the last months of World War II. They were sort of a hybrid unit that was spread out among infantry units, designed to work with infantry. This simple fact would have hurt their unit's fame if they had been an all-white unit - their actions were just tossed in with other unit's statistics they fought with for just a few days. But, when you toss in the obvious racism of the day (multiple citations were sent up the chain of command, only to be tossed in the trash or ignored. This was corrected in the 1990's by an independent commission), you can see why no one heard of these soldiers.

Abdul-Jabbar focuses on just a few soldiers in this unit in this history. Many of these men wanted to be fighter pilots when they joined up, but were told that African-Americans were not allowed to fly. But, they could be in tank units. So, an all African-American tank unit was created. Eventually, the unit ended up in Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) in Texas. They were trained and then never sent to either front. Instead, they became the decoy team that other units trained against. They pretended to be the Germans in practice maneuvers - over and over and over again for nearly TWO YEARS - much longer than white units.

After D-Day, Generals Patton, Bradley and Montgomery pushed the Germans across France and approached Alsace-Lorraine in France near the German border. It was tough on the tank units, though. Experienced, intact tank battalions were at a premium. They sent for the 761st and they fit the bill perfectly, even though Patton had no confidence in African-Americans as soldiers. He kept those thoughts to himself, though, and actually visited the 761st and spoke with them, saying:

"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 sonsofbitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to your success. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down! They say it is patriotic to die for your country. Well, let’s see how many patriots we can make out of those German sonsofbitches."

The rest, as they say, is history.

This is an entertaining history, designed for the regular reader. The only real complaint I have with it is the audiobook reader, Richard Allen.  He mispronounces many military terms. There are many German and French cities and towns are named throughout the book and, to be honest, I have no idea how to say most of them. But, I do know some, and when the reader mispronounces the commonly known German and French name places, such as the Danube River, I know that there have to be lots of other problems.

To be fair to Richard Allen, it isn't his fault. 
Allen has since passed away, but he was a multiple award winning audiobook reader. He was brought in to read, not for his knowledge of foreign languages. The production team in the booth in the recording studio should have brought in someone to coach him how to say these place names. It's not that hard to find a French speaker and a German speaker - almost every local high school has teachers of both that could have coached him.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: BROTHERS in ARMS: THE EPIC STORY of the 761st TANK BATALLION, WWII's FORGOTTEN HEROES (audiobook) by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton.

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