Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers
Rivers was a Staff Sergeant in the 761st Tank Battalion, an all black tank
battalion which served with distinction in the European Theater of Operations
during World War II. Staff Sergeant River Rivers, who was half-Cherokee, was one
of seven African-American soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor, although this
official recognition of their heroic actions was not made until 1997.
Sergeant Ruben Rivers played a critical role in some of the earliest action the 761st would see, becoming the battalion's initial hero, but also one of its first casualties. Shortly after arriving in Europe in the fall of 1944, the 761st was chosen by Patton to be part of his Saar Campaign in the Allied drive to the Siegfried Line.
On November 8, 1944, Sergeant Rivers and the others in the 761st's Able Company were launched with the 104th Infantry Regiment in an attack on German positions near Vic-sur-Seille in northeastern France. As they approached the town via a narrow road, a roadblock improvised by the Germans using a felled tree and several mines stopped the progress of the tanks and infantry. The Germans soon trained their mortar and rifle fire on infantrymen stranded in the roadside ditches, and the situation threatened to produce heavy casualties very quickly. Rivers, positioned in the lead tank, realized that following protocol would fail to alleviate the situation. Instead he took action that resulted in the battalion's first Silver Star. His heroic efforts are recounted below in the official medal citation:
the daylight attack ... Staff Sergeant Rivers, a tank platoon sergeant, was in
the lead tank when a road block was encountered which held up the advance. With
utter disregard for his personal safety, Staff Sergeant Rivers courageously
dismounted from his tank in the face of directed enemy small arms fire, attached
a cable to the road block and moved it off the road, thus permitting the combat
team to proceed. His prompt action thus prevented a serious delay in the
offensive action and was instrumental in the successful assault and capture of
the town. His brilliant display of initiative, courage and devotion to duty
reflect the highest credit upon Staff Sergeant Rivers and the armed forces of
the United States.
This time the target was German positions in Guebling. Rivers' tank hit a mine at a railroad crossing while advancing toward the town with his company. His leg was slashed to the bone in the explosion, but he refused a morphine injection and, as many would do in the 761st, he also refused to be evacuated. He would refuse numerous evacuation offers over the next few days. Taking command of another tank, Rivers advanced with his company to take Guebling the next day and directed his tank's fire at enemy positions east of town through the morning of Nov. 19, despite the company losing three of its five tanks in the town to antitank fire and one to mines. One tank crew acquired a replacement and returned to the town.
761st Tank Battalion
First Lieutenant Vernon J. Baker
Rear Admiral Barry C. Black
Major General Charles F. Bolden, Jr. |
Corporal Buddie Branch Vice Admiral David L. Brewer III Rear Admiral Erroll M. Brown Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter, Jr. Brigadier General Roscoe C. Cartwright Rear Admiral Osie V. Combs Four Star General Benjamin Davis
Major General Arnold Fields Rear Admiral Lillian Fishburne First Lieutenant John R. Fox Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely, Jr.
Major General James F. Hamlet Harlem Hellfighters 4 Star General Daniel James Jr. Private First Class Willy F. James, Jr.
Corporal Harry Johns Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. Staff Sergeant Aubrey L. McDade, Jr. Vice-Admiral Ed Moore
Four Star General Lloyd W. Newton Captain Joseph N. Peterson General Colin Powell Captain Ronald A. Radcliffe
Admiral J. Paul Reason Four Star General Edward A. Rice Jr. Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers Clifford Chester Sims
Robert Smalls Major General Clifford L. Stanley Tuskegee Airmen Lieutenant Colonel Merryl (David) Tengesdal
Captain Charles L. Thomas Private George Watson Major General Leo V. Williams, III Colonel Charles Young
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