Corporals Frazier & Baldwin receive honors from NYC officials.

Corporals Frazier & Baldwin receive honors from NYC officials.

Recently, veterans and community members gathered at Harlem's Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building to 'honor the 784th Tank Battalion for their gallantry and service' in World War II. Veterans of wars from all eras, citizens and community leaders were among those who participated in the event, which was simultaneously organized as the 'First Annual Veterans' Conference' in New York City.

However, as one of the three all-Black Tank Battalions in the Army in World War II, the 784th has not been given the honor it richly deserves.

'The battalion has still not received a unit citation for its actions in the war. It deserves a Unit Citation,' said Staff Sergeant Bill Pace, an African-American Army veteran of Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War.

Corporal's James Baldwin (84) and Claude Herald Frazier (83), both local residents and members of the 784th, were honored at the event.

'It's an honor to receive these letters of commendation,' said Baldwin, who stood alongside Frazier as Congressional representatives and local leaders presented them with the awards.

Sgt. Beverly Griggsby, a veteran of the Army and one of the organizers of the event got involved because his wife Eva and Frazier are long-time friends.

'We are proud to be black and Cherokee. I wanted to do something to honor African-Americans who have served,' said Griggsby whose son Robert is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

The service of blacks in the military has been a national topic of late. Recently, filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood were criticized for not including African-Americans in their epic movies, 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Flags of Our Fathers.'

In a controversial episode in June of this year, Eastwood publicly said, 'Shut your face!' to Spike Lee after the latter commented on the misrepresentation of blacks in Hollywood war films.

The full picture of the sacrifice of African-American service members has historically eluded many Americans. More than 1 million blacks served in uniform during World War II.

It was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who first pushed for desegregating the armed services. In a letter to her husband, she wrote, 'There is a growing feeling amongst colored people, and they are creating a feeling among many white people. They feel they should be allowed to participate in any training that is going on, in the aviation, army, navy, and have opportunities for service.'

While segregation in the armed forces continued until 1948, all-black combat units would be formed during the war - among them, the 784th.

On April 1st, 1943, the 784th Tank battalion was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. The battalion landed in France on Christmas day 1944. The medium tank battalion consisted of six companies: A (Able), B (Baker), C (Charlie), D (Dog), Headquarters and Service. Abel, Baker, and Charlie, they operated with Sherman medium tanks, M-5 Stuart light tanks, 105 millimeter Assault Guns, and 81 millimeter mortars.

The 784th fought under the 104th and 35th Infantry Divisions, which were under the famous command of General George S. Patton.

According to Dr. Jeffrey J. Clarke, the current Director of the U.S. Army Center of Military History, in the final year of World War II, 'the 784th was instrumental in the capture of Venlo in the Netherlands on March 1, the exploitation from the Rhine Bridgehead on March 25, and the reduction of the Ruhr Pocket in April. In the course of its many engagements, the Battalion suffered 140 battle casualties...while facing an enemy equal or superior to their own.'

The battalion also witnessed the genocide carried out by the Nazis.

The late Staff Sergeant Franklin Garrido, a tank commander in Baker Company, described the scene to Joe Wilson, Jr., the son of an African-American tanker in the 761st 'Black Panther' Tank Battalion and author of books about the two distinguished units.

As we got closer, I saw...human skeletons clinging onto the fence begging us with their eyes to help them. At that time the radio crackled and we heard an urgent message over the air telling the tanks not to run over the bodies.'

The concentration camp victims that Garrido and his men saw were forced laborers of a German war factory located on the outskirts of the town of Gardelegen, Germany.

The 784th continued pursuing the retreating Germans until they reached the Elb River. Shortly thereafter, the Soviet Army took Berlin and Hitler committed suicide.

More than 60 years have passed since the 784th returned home from the European theatre of operations.

How much more time does the Army need to recognize the heroes of the 784th with a Unit Citation?


Luis Carlos Montalván is a former Army cavalry captain and veteran of the war in Iraq.