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Graphic novel portrays the heroism of ‘Black Panther’ Ruben Rivers

It took more than 50 years after his death for Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers to receive the Medal of Honor.

Now, the Association of the United States Army has released a graphic novel, “Medal of Honor: Ruben Rivers,” about his heroic actions with Able Company under the 761st Tank Battalion during World War II.

Rivers’ unit, more commonly known as the “Black Panthers,” was assigned to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army in Europe. Despite facing racial segregation and prejudice — particularly in the form of Jim Crow laws — the battalion of tankers answered the call to serve its nation.

After forming in 1942, the 761st received its first official orders just after D-Day on June 9, 1944.

“Following additional training at Camp Shank in New York, Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers boarded USS Esperance Bay with his unit on August 27, 1944, and made for the United Kingdom” according to the National WWII Museum’s records. “In Britain, the 761st was outfitted with the latest model of the Sherman, the M4A3 with a 76mm gun.”

Rivers first landed on Omaha Beach in October of 1944. A month later, the tanker battalion was tasked with disrupting German industrial advances in the Saar region of France.

On Nov. 16, Rivers’ tank struck a mine outside Guebling, France. Although he suffered a severe leg injury, he refused medical evacuation and instead commanded another tank into battle just one day later.

“Repeatedly refusing evacuation, Staff Sergeant Rivers continued to direct his tank’s fire at enemy positions beyond the town through the morning of 19 November 1944,” his citation reads.

When met with heavy enemy fire, Able Company commander Capt. David Williams ordered all tanks to seek cover. However, Rivers chose instead to provide cover fire for the company once he identified the location of the German antitank fire.

“While doing so, Staff Sergeant Rivers’ tank was hit, killing him and wounding the rest of the crew,” according to his citation. “Staff Sergeant Rivers’ fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his unit and exemplify the highest traditions of military service.”

Just four days later, Williams recommended Rivers for the Medal of Honor posthumously. However, he knew it was unlikely to go through because Black soldiers at the time were not held in high esteem by the then-segregated Army.

“Williams knew it was a long shot: no African American had been awarded a Medal of Honor for World War I or II at that point,” the National Park Service notes. “Williams made it his life’s mission to see that Rivers was not forgotten.”

On Jan. 13, 1997, Rivers’ sister received his Medal of Honor from President Bill Clinton. Williams attended the ceremony, which saw seven African American soldiers receive the highest valor award for their service during World War II.

Rivers was laid to rest in a cemetery in Lorraine, France.

To read AUSA’s graphic novel “Medal of Honor: Ruben Rivers” you can visit www.ausa.org/rivers.

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