A Time to Live; a Time to Die: The Sad Saga of Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers

By Wilson, Dale E. | Negro History Bulletin, December 1993 | Go to article overview

A Time to Live; a Time to Die: The Sad Saga of Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers


Wilson, Dale E., Negro History Bulletin


The crash of artillery fire kept nerves taut as the men in Captain David J. Williams' Company A, 761st Tank Battalion (Negro) prepared to undergo their baptism of fire at daybreak on November 8, 1944.

When the order to move finally came, First Lieutenant Joe Kahoe's five tanks plowed through the mud to take up supporting positions behind a low ridge outside the village of Bezange le Grande. At the same time, First Lieutenant Robert Hammond's platoon, with Staff Sergeant Ruben River's tank in the lead, roared down the road as GIs from the 26th Infantry Division's 104th Infantry Regiment pushed toward their objective, Vic sur Seille. Rivers didn't get far, though. Just a couple of hundred yards out of town he encountered a roadblock.

Williams' radio crackled. "Hello, D.J.," said Rivers, following the Company's policy of using first names instead of more formal call signs. "There's a roadblock just ahead. Got mines on it. Doughs in the ditches are getting shelled. Over."

"Hello, Ruben," replied the company commander. "Help the doughs. Fire H.E. for effect. Out." Williams grabbed his binoculars and watched in awe as Sergeant Rivers calmly dismounted from his tank, crawled forward with the tow cable, and carefully attached it to the trunk of the large tree that formed the roadblock. Williams could make out the shape of antipersonnel and antitank mines attached to the tree and held his breath as Rivers painstakingly performed the operation while German infantry fired on him and a brace of mortar rounds exploded nearby. Undaunted, Rivers completed his task, stood up, remounted his tank, and climbed into the turret.

When the tank backed up, pulling the tree clear of the road, Williams observed several black puffs of smoke as mines exploded. Impressed by Rivers' cool courage under fire, which cleared the way for the tanks and infantry to move on and take their objective, Williams recommended the intrepid tanker for a Silver Star, the nation's third highest valor award.

Hard fighting continued through the next day as the 104th Infantry, still supported by Company A, pushed on in a bloody battle to take Morville-les-Vic. They continued to press forward on the tenth, and reached Chateau Voue on November 11. The next day, two of Williams' platoons repulsed a German counterattack near Weiss. On the thirteenth, the battered company withdrew for maintenance.

Three days later, on November 16, while leading his company's eleven remaining tanks (Kahoe's platoon had been detached to support another regiment) across a railroad crossing near the village of Guebling, Rivers' vehicle hit an antitank mine. The mine blew off its right track and severely damaged the running gear. A piece of metal knocked loose inside the turret, slashed Rivers' right leg, laying the flesh open to the bone from knee to thigh. It was a "million dollar wound," according to Sergeant Theodore A. Weston, a tank commander in Rivers' platoon. Captain Williams agreed when he saw Rivers outside the vehicle. Williams could plainly see bone, and later expressed amazement that the wound was not bleeding more.

At that moment, Staff Sergeant Ray Roberson and Corporal Homer Bracy, two of the company medics, pulled up in a jeep. Roberson silently began cleaning Rivers's wound, painting it with antiseptic. "Do you need a shot, Sergeant?" he asked. Rivers' face displayed neither pain nor emotion. "No, just tape and bandage it," he said tightly.

When Roberson finished dressing the wound, he turned to Williams and offered to drive Rivers to the aid station. Williams nodded. "Let's get him in the jeep," he said, reaching down to help lift Rivers to his feet.

Rivers brushed Williams' hand away and struggled up on his own. "I'm not goin' back, Cap'n," he said. "You're gonna be needin' me round here pretty soon." Williams started to argue, but Rivers ignored him, pushing past the company commander and hobbling to the nearest tank. …

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