Suffolk’s William Porter among blacks who contributed to WWII

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 29, 2004

The African-American soldiers of World War II was an enormous population of men pressed into service for their country.

The accuracy of the unit rosters were questionable, but approximately 800,000 were drafted.

Over 1,000,000 men were inducted into the armed forces through the Selective Service.

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The majority of the men went into the army, although, others entered the navy, marines, and coast guard.

Among the inductees was Suffolk, Virginia native William &uot;Bro&uot; Porter. He was a second generation resident of Pleasant Hill, but migrated to New York City in search of employment after the Great Depression.

At the age of 27 fate may have deemed him too old for military service but destiny prevailed and he became a soldier on Sept. 21, 1941.

The story could have ended but causalities during the early war years created a need for replacement troops and the possibility of introducing what was then referred to as &uot;colored soldiers&uot; in the armored division.

The racism and discrimination and Jim Crow laws which existed in the south and other parts of the united states existed in all branches of the services, although the Selective Service Act prohibited racial discrimination in the military. The military continued to ponder but when General George Patton heard the plans he made his feelings known in a letter to his wife &uot;no colored man can think fast enough to be in the tank battalion&uot; he wrote.

The idea was tabled but the need for replacement troops was paramount.

Therefore, African-American soldiers were finally assigned to the 78th which became the 758th tank battalion,

which was the military’s first &uot;colored&uot; tank battalion.

Next soldiers were assigned to the 761st &uot;Black Panthers&uot; tank battalion.

William &uot;Bro&uot; Porter was among the men assigned to the 761st.

He trained at the US Army Armored Replacement Center, Ft. Knox, Ky.

The training was intense and long.

Then the question became would the solders actually see combat? The question was answered in June 1944 when the boarded ships which would transport them to the European Theatre.

Somewhere in the hundreds of rejoicing soldiers Corporal William Porter stood, celebrating with his fellow soldiers.

They were headed for war.

But what would combat mean?

No man truly knows what to expect in war.

These men would be fighting the enemy and segregation.

The soldiers were aware of the signs of racism and discrimination in the united states but what would be their future on foreign soil.

The reality was sobering.

Arriving in England 12 days later, he solders were not met by cheers and well wishers.

They were met by the sights and sounds of soldiers preparing for war.

The 761st landed on Omaha Beach making history as the first &uot;colored&uot; American tankers to land on foreign soil.

Corporal Porter was there, too. The solders were greeted by General Paul, Commander of the 26th Division. Two days later General George Patton visited the men.

The soldiers listened as Patton gave the charge &uot;. . . Men you are 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, so long as you kill the Kraut . . .&uot; Corporal Porter stood in formation awed by the sight of General Patton presence, but none of the men could have known the full impact of Patton’s plans for them.

This was their introduction to the Battle of the Bulge. There would be no time to rest, they were on the move now.

The soldiers entered the Battle of the Bulge with courage, gallantry, and speed while fighting under terrible Weather conditions.

Normally combat soldiers were relieved every 10 to 15 days but the men of the 761st fought continuously for 183 days.

Patton’s change of mind was not as simple as his speech to the men.

They would be utilized to spearhead, forge clear, and fortify the way for Patton and he would use the 76lst mercilessly.

The more they fought the more time disappeared from their lives.

Hours and minutes became memories and sound became the indicator of their existence.

The strength of the 761st tank battalion was the ability of the soldiers to operate as a complete unit.

The men became a brotherhood, where survival depended on how well they worked together, but most of all, they were not &uot;colored soldiers&uot; they were Americans.

Before the war ended Corporal Porter had driven his tank through five countries and was at the Czech border when the war ended in Europe. He immediately received orders for the Pacific but the war ended before he arrived. Like Porter, many of the men were reassigned to other units and did not return with the 761st.

At 33 Corporal was heading home, but home would not be New York City, home would be Suffolk Virginia.

He would return to Pleasant Hill.

Bro Porter would return to American with the images of death, decay, and destruction attached to his spirit, and he was tired.

In Pleasant Hill he returned to family for comfort, rest, and recovery. There in the small community were his grandmother Mattie Vaughn, aunts Dianah Cherry and Louvenia Riddick, and his uncle Nathan Porter, who had served in World War I.

His uncle would help him surrender the images of war and help him find peace.

Childhood friends were there to rejoice in his

homecoming and recall their adventures like trying to climb the water tower on Factory Street.

For many years he would remain in the neighborhood, and appreciate its serenity.

The 761st Tank battalion were the disregarded soldiers.

The men returned to segregation, injustices, and Jim Crow laws which defined the standard of living prior to the war.

There is no mention of the &uot;colored&uot; thank battalions or the 761st in the movies &uot;Patton&uot; or the &uot;Battle of the Bulge.&uot;

Their service would have completely vanished if it had not be for a few scattered documents, oral accounts and persistence which was rewarded in 1977.

President, Jimmy Carter awarded


Sadly, many of the men of the tank battalion have passed including William &uot;Bro&uot; Porter who was my father, but it was important to recognized all the gallant men of the 761st tank battalion for &uot;their fighting spirit and devotion to duty&uot; and secure their place in history.