Guest Post from Samuel Marquis Author of Soldiers of Freedom: The WWII Story of Patton’s Panthers and the Edelweiss Pirates

I recently read and reviewed Samuel Marquis’ most recent book in his WWII Historical Fiction series. I’ve read them all, and this one has more battle details than I’ve seen in any of the others. Which I think is warranted and deserving of the titular subjects of the book. You can check out the book review by clicking HERE. – Ronovan


Soldiers of Freedom: Why Patton’s 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion and Other African-American Units Fought Despite Racism in WWII

By Samuel Marquis

In Soldiers of Freedom: The WWII Story of Patton’s Panthers and the    Edelweiss    Pirates, Book 5 of his WWII Series, historical fiction author Samuel Marquis tells the story of Sergeant William McBurney and the 761st Tank Battalion, the first African-American armored unit in U.S. history. Fighting under legendary General George S Patton, Jr. in the grueling Lorraine campaign in France, the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhineland, and in the final conquest of Nazi Germany, Sherman tank gunner McBurney and his fellow Black Panthers had to fight two wars at once: one against the German Army, the other against the racism of their fellow white soldiers. In their fight on behalf of freedom, they changed the makeup of the modern U.S. Army and paved the way for the civil rights movement.

After the battle for Tillet—one of the many small Belgian towns U.S. forces had to liberate to eventually win the legendary Battle of the Bulge—a German prisoner took one look at the troopers from the all-black 761st Tank Battalion that had just vanquished him and was stunned to see colored men in uniform. “What are you doing here?” he asked one of the tankers in English. “This is a white man’s war.”

Grinning and offering the German soldier a cigarette, the Negro tanker replied, “You ain’t got no black or white when you’re over here and the nation is in trouble. You only got Americans.”

In a nutshell, the exchange explains why African-American soldiers were willing to risk their lives to fight in WWII, despite suffering from pervasive discrimination from their own white troops and American civilians during their training. They simply wanted to do the right thing in the name of freedom and democracy and make a difference in the world—the same as their white counterparts. But in the process, they also hoped to advance their own freedom. They longed to move themselves forward onto an equal footing, or at least a more equal footing, with whites they would soon learn from the hard experience of war were certainly no better than them.

In late 1945 and early 1946, the 761st Tank Battalion—the first African-American armored unit in U.S. history to see combat—returned home from WWII along with 1.2 million other black veterans. They had been handpicked by General George S. Patton, Jr. himself, fought in his vaunted U.S. Third Army until the German capitulation, and were damn proud of that fact. Patton’s veteran Black Panthers, whose motto was “Come Out Fighting” in tribute to boxing legend Joe Louis, should have returned as conquering heroes. Instead, while their white brethren in the armed forces enjoyed great fanfare, ticker-tape parades, and a plethora of newspaper ink, the Black Panthers, Tuskegee Airmen, and other black outfits that had put Nazism down like a rabid dog were largely ignored. They had no choice but to quietly resume their daily lives in a country that cared little about their contributions and sacrifices overseas.

They had gone to Europe and the Pacific to perform their duty on behalf of their country, hoping that by fighting on behalf of freedom they would become free themselves. But upon their return, the painful truth was they had not changed a nation. In fact, they found themselves in many ways more at the beginning of a civil-rights struggle than at the end as returning African-American soldiers. Having served their country with distinction during the largest and most violent conflagration in human history, they returned to second-class status and with expectations that were deemed unacceptable to those of many of their white compatriots. Most of them still could not vote, use public facilities, sit beside whites in buses or at lunch counters, or find work at anything but the most menial of jobs.

For the returning members of the 761st and other black units in the U.S. Army and Air Corps, it was apparent that America had never really cared for theSam Marquis Soldiers of Freedom Coverm and now had mostly forgotten them. Most people did not even know of African-American service on the battlefields of Europe. In the roar of postwar America, the battalion’s service might as well not have happened, so few people knew or even cared. What the 1.2 million black servicemen had done on behalf of their country was not acknowledged or even believed. But even more upsetting to the returning colored soldiers was that white America expected life in the U.S.—with its racial castes and customs—to go on as if the war had never happened. The majority of whites were still unwilling to look at them in the new light that black leaders had originally sought by insisting that colored men receive the right to fight. They experienced lynchings, beatings, and employment discrimination despite their veteran status, and they couldn’t help but feel excluded from the postwar economic prosperity they could see all around them.

The returning black troopers found all this perplexing, especially considering how well they had been treated by not only the French, Belgians, and Dutch they liberated, but by the German civilians who only days and weeks before had been their enemies. Sergeant William McBurney, Sherman tank main gunner and the protagonist of my book Soldiers of Freedom, had fond memories of Holland from his stay there in February 1945, recuperating and refitting after the brutal Battle of the Bulge. So did the other members of the 761st Tank Battalion. To them, the best thing about Holland was the people. The Dutch citizens spoke English fluently and treated them with genuine respect and warmth. They welcomed them not as black men but as Americans, honoring them as liberators from the German occupation forces. McBurney found the simple and sincere kindness of the Dutch people a welcome and pleasant surprise after the treatment he had experienced at the hands of many of the American soldiers, particularly those from the 87th Infantry, a Southern unit the 761st had fought alongside.

The French, Belgian, and Dutch people were right to treat the members of the 761st as heroes and liberators: Patton’s Panthers had truly earned their reputation as a crack fighting unit. From the time that the battalion was committed to combat on November 7, 1944 through May 6, 1945, it had spent 183 days in action, its only pauses accounted for by the time needed to move from one mission to another. During its combat actions, the battalion destroyed or captured 331 enemy machine-gun nests, 58 pillboxes, and 461 wheeled vehicles; killed 6,246 enemy combatants; and captured more than 15,818 enemy soldiers. Not bad for an outfit that rarely numbered over a thousand men, including maintenance and supply. McBurney and his buddies also liberated the Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria in the final days of the war. Since the war, battalion members have visited Jewish organizations and school groups throughout the country to share these memories and to testify to the horrors they witnessed during the camp’s liberation.

The Black Panthers paid a heavy price in the name of freedom. The unit suffered thirty-six men killed in action, including three officers. Thirty-nine officers and 221 enlisted men fell wounded in action. Nonbattle casualties stood at nine officers and 192 men, mostly trench foot cases. Total casualties pressed towards 50 percent, a disproportionately high number for a comparatively small outfit that fought alongside manpower and equipment behemoths like the 26th Infantry Division and the 4th Armored Division. The battalion lost a whopping 71 tanks in battle, more than one and a half times its original allotment.

The men themselves never thought of themselves as particularly heroic. All the members of the 761st had ever wanted was simple human dignity, to be recognized for their abilities as soldiers without being judged by the color of their skin. By taking up arms in the struggle against Tojo and Hitler, they had hoped to heal the old wounds of racial prejudice inflicted upon them by their white counterparts in the U.S. armed forces and by the bigoted white civilians at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, and Camp Hood, Texas, where they had undergone their training. But as fate would have it, the men of the 761st and other segregated African-American combat units like the 92nd Infantry Division and the famous Tuskegee Airmen received a less than warm welcome upon their return home. The continued discrimination towards the black soldiers after willingly giving their lives on the killing grounds of Europe and the Pacific was a source of significant disappointment and discouragement for the returning men, as well as their embittered families.

As Platoon Sergeant Johnnie Stevens of the 761st said: “We were treated better by the civilian German population than we were treated in America. See, in our own country, we could not buy a hot dog when we were in uniform, had to ride in the back of the bus when we were in uniform…. But over there, you were treated like a king. We ate together, slept together. After the war was over and the Germans had dances again, we were invited. That’s why a lot of black GIs took their discharges in Europe. They said, ‘Look, ain’t nothing in America for me. I can’t get a decent job when I go back, I know that. I’m not gonna have any privileges. I can’t even vote. So what the hell do I want to go back there for?”

Though the 761st’s vets were disappointed to return home to the same old prejudices, they soon began to put their lives together, start careers, marry, raise children, and lead in countless quiet but nonetheless significant ways. Though some struggled, the bloody battlefields of Europe had trained them to be disciplined, responsible American citizens who understood the true cost of freedom. But they would have an even greater impact in the future.

The brave actions of the 761st on the battlefields of Europe would eventually garner the men the recognition they deserved, pave the way for an integrated U.S. Army, and lay the foundation for the post-war civil rights movement. At the end of WWII, the distinguished service of the 761st Tank Battalion, Tuskegee Airmen, and other African-American combat units helped convince President Harry S. Truman and other high-ranking government officials to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948. And then, after thirty-three years of intense lobbying by the unit’s veterans, the battalion was belatedly awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for “Extraordinary Heroism” by President Jimmy Carter on January 24, 1978. The award became official on April 10, 1978 by the Department of the Army under General Orders Number 5. The final award stood as a single citation for all the 761st’s actions from October 31, 1944, to May 6, 1945. Most importantly, the government finally acknowledged that “racial discrimination and inadvertent neglect on the part of those in authority” had played a role in the previous disapprovals and that “the climate created by the Army commanders could only have made it difficult to provide proper recognition for a ‘Negro’ unit during the period 1944-1947.”

Though the citation should have come thirty-three years earlier, it was ultimately the struggles of Patton’s Black Panthers—at home and abroad, within the armed forces and outside it—that led to the construction of a stronger U.S. Army and a greater nation. Since the new millennium, African-Americans make up around 20% of the U.S. armed forces (and no longer are they merely cooks, stevedores, and drivers), and black officers in the services stand at 5%-7% in the Navy, Air Force and Marines and 10%-15% in the Army.

That is the ultimate legacy of Patton’s Panthers.

Biography 

The ninth great-grandson of legendary privateer Captain William Kidd, Samuel Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning author of a World War Two Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, and American historical fiction. His novels have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Kirkus Reviews and Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, American Book Fest and USA Best Book, IPPY, Readers’ Favorite, Beverly Hills, Next Generation Indie, and Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). Book reviewers have compared Marquis’s WWII thrillers to the epic historical novels of Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, Daniel Silva, and Alan Furst. His website is samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact Books Forward at info@booksforward.com.

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© 2020 Ronovan Hester Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.

#BookReview by @RonovanWrites of Soldiers of Freedom part of @SamMarquisBooks WWII Series

Soldiers of Freedom4.68 Gold Star Image

 

Soldiers of Freedom

by Samuel Marquis

Fiction: WWII Historical Fiction/German Historical Fiction/Military Historical Fiction/Biographies of World War II. 646 Pages Print. Mount Sopris Publishing (March 31, 2020)

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

The ninth great-grandson of legendary privateer Captain William Kidd, Samuel Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning author of a WWII Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, The Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth Series, and a historical fiction novel centered on the infamous pirate, Blackbeard. His novels have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword INDIES, American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards, Beverly Hills Book Awards, IPPY, Next Generation Indie Awards, Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews. Book reviewers have compared Marquis’s WWII thrillers “Bodyguard of Deception,” “Altar of Resistance,” and “Spies of the Midnight Sun” to the epic historical novels of Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, Daniel Silva, Len Deighton, and Alan Furst. (Emphasis by Ronovan.)

In addition Sam has been the Kirkus Reviews Book of the Year Winner. Kirkus Reviews, founded in 1933 it has been considered one of the big two along with Publishers Weekly. To be selected for review is a sense of worth for an author. To be selected as a book of the year? I can’t imagine but can dream. (Kirkus Reviews is owned by Nielsen Holdings, 2010.)

REVIEW:

In Soldiers of Freedom: The true story WWII Story of Patton’s Panthers and the Edelweiss Pirates, Samuel Marquis mixes his ability to capture authentic dialogue with his massive amounts of research to give societal issues and the human condition during the time not only by the obvious racial aspect but by nation and society ruled by a dictator and his self-important official and citizen followers. Marquis gives the experiences of the soldier as a person with thoughts and feelings beyond being in a war simply to be following orders and killing the enemy, but the rest of his life the experiences of war touches. This carries over to the military command level as well as citizens in the home nation of the Nazi regime.

With a book set in WWII Europe and involving the 761st Tank Battalion, there must be sensory loaded descriptions of battles; the roar of guns, the smoke, the smells, the confinement, but more than that, I am given the emotional mindset of a tank gunner, and his comrades-in-arms as they fight against the Nazi regime. Marquis does not stop there, he gives a taste of what it’s like to be a Black man in the 1940s and how that translates to being a soldier at war, while at the same time often outranking white soldiers who show disrespect, disregard, and disdain for them.

Getting flipped on its head, I then read about the physical and emotional state of a teenage German girl, who is resistance fighter with the Gestapo dogging her every step, a situation more treacherous than any man would face. She shows me not every German in WWII is either a Nazi, a Nazi supporter, or innocent of having blood on their hands.

The dialogue and action of the military and resistance fighters draw you in and give you a sense of being a part of a war environment, not just the battlefield of soldiers, but the battlefield of citizens fighting their own government. Marquis uses his research materials of government documents, biographies, interviews, and personal letters to great dramatic effect.

Soldiers of Freedom is told through the voices of three people; SARGENT WILLIAM H. BURNEY, a Black man from Harlem on Manhattan Island, New York who is a part of the 761st, GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON Jr, commander of the US THIRD ARMY, and 16/17-year-old ANGELA LANGE, daughter of a German Colonel, and member of the EDELWEISS PIRATES, a real German resistance group in Cologne, Germany.

Jackie Robinson military photo
Jackie Robinson

While reading I can’t help but feel the frustration of the young Black soldiers not just during the war, but from the moment of sitting down with a recruiter and being told that you aren’t allowed to so much as try for what you dreamed of doing in the military and for your country, that you would have to take another route. I am surprised by the honesty of the recruiter considering the times. Frustrations continue wherever McBurney goes, from one camp to another, all in the name of training. The use of the JACKIE ROBINSON’s court-martial hearing is perfect to put an exclamation point on the 761st time in the US.

761st Tank Battalion photo
761st Tanker Division the first all Black tanker group.

Samuel Marquis gives facts of history not taught to me even in my higher-level History courses at university, and that was as a History Education major. For example, the existence of the 761st TANK BATTALION, the reason for their formation, how they end up in Europe, and the impact they make on the war, which is huge. They are a large part of important moments. There are times in McBurney’s journey I want to punch so many people, run over them with my tank, or shot them with my big 76mm gun, preferably with a round of HE. I get to see the reaction of the German soldiers, and German citizens as well, misrepresented in every level from middle school through university. I learned what a HE was, as well as what a 76mm was and what it could do.

“But it struck him as ironic that he and his fellow Negro tankers were about to cross the same ocean their African ancestors had crossed in chains; and that, in taking part in the struggle against Nazism, they were about to fight a war in the name of freedoms neither the men of the 761st nor their forbearers had ever enjoyed.”—Sergeant William H. McBurney, Tank Main Gunner, U.S 761st “Black Panthers”

What I enjoy a lot is the sharing of the experience the tankers both in battle and in the everyday life of a soldier. The difficulty the drivers and gunners have using these machines is incredible. How although the tanks can be lions, they can also quickly turn into lambs. I haven’t come across another book, of any kind, describing with such honesty what a soldier goes through in the confines of a war machine, regardless of the genre. I don’t know how they did it. I’d still be shaking, rattling, and my eyes would be bopping all around to this day. Then there is what McBurney reveals about German towns and the citizens they come upon. I have never given much thought to that part of the story, at least not down to that level. One reason for not knowing is, history books don’t teach about the Black soldiers of WWI and what they did in Germany. You must read to believe.

General George S. Patton Jr.

“Lord help us,” [Patton] said, pulling out a fresh cigar. “And Lord help me when this war is over.”

“Why’s that, sir? I would think you would celebrate.”

“No, Codman. With nothing to do, I’m going to be a [***]damn wreck and an absolute nuisance to my wife.” – Major Charles Codman and General George S. Patton Jr, Freedom Soldiers

That sampling of dialogue is just a little taste to help you get in the spirit of General George S. Patton Jr.

Patton is as flamboyant and audacious as I thought. Using diaries and letters, Marquis gives me the colorful language and stories Patton liked to tell, but more importantly, his feelings about soldiers under his command, as well as the Generals and commanders he must work with. Those feelings are quite surprising, not only for the tough-as-nails Patton but from a field general at all. I laughed, yes laughed, reading old Blood and Guts Patton’s

Eisenhower and Montgomery photo
General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

exchanges with GENERAL DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, as well as other generals, and his thoughts on the BRITSH FIELD MARSHAL BERNARD MONTGOMERY. And the honest opinions of Eisenhower, at least through research are eye-opening. What is revealed about the politics, perceptions, and egos of war and how they play out on the battlefield is not necessarily surprising, but are brutal when laid in front of you and you can’t help but see it and think about the outcomes.

The resulting command structure and atmosphere of the European Theater following Patton’s removal for slapping two shell-shocked soldiers in Sicily are painful to watch with Patton demoted then later given command of the US Third Army. How the war would have been different if not for his believing the soldiers were just trying to avoid fighting. No one had heard of PTSD in the 1940s. The press had a field day, but Patton had a powerful fan and ally waiting in the wings to help get him back in the war.

For the ugly truth was that every German was ultimately guilty for allowing Hitler and the Nazis to rise to power and hiding their head in the sand and turning their backs when the regime began singling out Communists, Jews, clergymen, and other racial, political, and social enemies of the Reich. – Angela Lange, Freedom Soldiers

Jackie Robinson military photo
Gertrud Koch, Edelweiss Pirate/Navajo. Inspiration for Angela Lange

Angela Lange is loosely based on real-life Edelweiss Pirate of Cologne, GERTRUD KOCH, but with elements drawn from events experienced by her comrades. I learn through Angela’s authentic filled voice and view, just how naïve and young these Edelweiss Pirates, who called themselves Navajos out of admiration for the Native American tribe, are in the beginning, but also how fast they grow up. Their main target is the Hitler Youth that patrols the town and enacts harsh punishment on those they deem conducting criminal or disloyal acts. The demented CRIMINAL COMMISSIONER FERDINAND KÜTTER of the Cologne Gestapo along with his interrogators are nothing but sadistic, rabid dogs who enjoy nothing more than torturing Germans and enemies alike until they get confessions, information, or death. Marquis settles into a groove with Angela’s story as the book continues. I witness the innocence, naivete, love, pain, tragedy, hope, despair, spirit, and determination throughout this young woman’s story and all while battling with the Gestapo. And not just any Gestapo, but some of the most factually brutal in the Nazi Regime, that were historical figures in Cologne.

As important as Patton’s story is, the 761st story is bigger and as big as their story is Angela’s story is the one that delivers a reality punch. We don’t think much about resistance within Germany unless we think of the Jews who hid from death and helped others escape it. Here we see German citizens fighting against the Nazis, not to help the Allies, but to take back the Germany they once knew.

WHAT I LIKED:
  • facts about unheard of people
  • a sensory experience from each view of the war
  • the action of the tank soldiers
  • how the 761st put aside bigotry for country
  • revealing details of the German citizens’ attitudes and the towns the 761st encounter
  • Patton’s loyalty and love for his men
  • the camaraderie among the US Generals in Europe
  • learning of and about the Edelweiss Pirates
  • continuing to learn about the types of Nazis through Marquis’ books (They aren’t cookie-cutter and all fall-in-line Nazis.)
  • the afterword information and further details of what happened next for these people
WHAT I LIKED LESS:
  • There are a few moments in Angela Lange’s story that don’t ring as emotionally engaging or authentic as they should be. I don’t mean the events don’t occur historically. What I mean is the telling of certain scenes are not as detailed or as emotional as they should be. Those parts that don’t capture the emotion of the scene do not take away from Angela’s experience, they lessen the impact in those specific scenes. It might be the nature of situations that gives hesitation to going deeper.
  • The book isn’t quite as smooth as I am accustomed to with Sam’s books, (I’ve read all the WWII series books, amazing series.) I put this down to the massive amount of action that takes place during this important period covered. Transitions within the three views sometimes take a moment to become clear as to who is speaking. I know the setting because that is clear at the beginning of each chapter. I just at times don’t know the individual speaking or spoken to. That could be me.
  • There are one or two, what I will rudely call minor, battles that I could do without the description of the battle, just given the information that the 761st wins and why it is important. This happens with several battles after the war turns heavily into the Allies’ favor. I always want the wins, losses, and strategic information. There are simply a few scenes where I feel like I’m reading the same scene from earlier, with minimal differences. Tanks do what tanks do, and similar battles occur, but at times there is a battle, though important, as every battle in WWII is, that can be told with just the telling of its victory and its strategic importance. Sam gives a few hugely important battles brief mentions, but we see their importance. In these cases, if Marquis went into detail, we would have more books to read.
COMPARABLE TO:

Others have compared Samuel Marquis’ writing style to New York Times #1 Bestselling author, Ken Follett who has seen some of his books turned into movies and TV series. Also, another name mentioned is Adam Makos, another New York Times Best Sellers list author.

As for me, there is an author who wrote many historical fiction novels, the late British author John Gardner, an ex-Royal Marine commando, and Anglican Priest before losing his faith. I’ve read over 20 of his books, perhaps that is one reason I enjoy Sam’s books so much. Gardner’s historical fiction work includes the five-book Herbie Kruger Series of action encompassing WWII, the Cold War as well as subsequent events inspired by the two, and there is also the three-book Railton Family Series, which has ties to the Kruger books. If you are a James Bond fan, he wrote 15 novels, beginning in 1981 with License Renewed and ending in 1996 with Cold/Cold Fall. All of us know him for the 007 book GoldenEye, in who’s film adaptation Pierce Brosnan made his Bond debut. I’ve read most of them.

As one review states:

“Marquis is a student of history, always creative, [and] never boring…A good comparison might be Tom Clancy.”Military.com

RECOMMEND TO:
  • Obviously for fans of the authors mentioned above.
  • Those who enjoy digging into the personal details of historical figures.
  • Those who are interested in untold stories of African American History.
  • People who want to understand a little more about the imagery of war in ways not normally described in books or shown on film.
  • For those who like to understand the citizens of war, their struggles, fears, tragedies, and sometimes why they participate in a war.

Review by: Ronovan Hester

THIS IS A 4.68 STARS REVIEW:

Character Development 5
World Building 5
Editing 4.5
Believability 5
Enjoyment 5
Clarity 4.25
Flow 4
4.68
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© 2020 Ronovan Hester Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.