Ruben Rivers MOH

b. 30/10/1918 Tecumseh, Oklahoma. d. 19/11/1944 near Bourgaltoff, France.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 16-19/11/1944 Guebling, France.

Ruben Rivers MOH

Rivers was born to Willie and Lillian Rivers October 31 1918 in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. He grew up in nearby Hotulka, Oklahoma, where he and his eleven brothers and sisters worked on the family farm. In 1930, the family moved to Earlsboro. After graduating from high school, Rivers worked on the railroad for a time. At the time, he was 6 ft 2 inches tall.

With the United States’ entry into World War II on behalf of the Allied cause, Rivers and two of his brothers joined the armed forces. Ruben would be the only one assigned to a combat unit however, training with the 761st Tank Battalion at Camp Hood in Texas. The 761st Tank Battalion, nicknamed the “Black Panthers”, was eventually assigned to General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army, where they performed with distinction in a number of important battles, although Patton did not officially recognize their accomplishments.

Rivers, a tank platoon sergeant in Able Company, 761st Tank Battalion, would play 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 General Patton to be part of his Saar Campaign in the Allied drive to the Siegfried Line. On November 8, 1944, Able Company, 761st Tank Battalion, which was attached to the 26th Infantry Division, joined with the 104th Infantry, 26th infantry Division, 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 fallen 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 “A” Company’s lead tank, realized that following protocol would fail to alleviate the situation. Instead he took action that resulted in him being the 761st’s first Silver Star recipient.

Unfortunately, the medal would have to be awarded posthumously. A little more than a week later Rivers would again distinguish himself leading the platoon, but this time he himself would not be so fortunate. On November 16, Able Company, with Rivers in the lead tank, would lead another assault. This time the target was German positions in Guebling. On the way into the town, Rivers’ tank hit a mine, disabling it and leaving Rivers with a significant injury. Shrapnel had cut his leg from knee to thigh and as deep as the bone.

Allowing the medics to only clean and dress the wound, Rivers took command of another tank and, as the Germans had begun to mark the area for heavy artillery fire, moved to take cover with the rest of “A” Company. It would not be until the morning of November 19 that the 761st would again push forward, but by now Rivers’ condition had seriously deteriorated. A dangerous infection had developed, threatening the loss of life and limb, and the wound was visibly causing a great deal of pain. Rivers had been urged to evacuate the night before, but he had again refused to leave the field. As usual his tank led the way, but while advancing toward German positions near the town of Bougaltroff, “A” Company “came under extraordinarily heavy fire. Williams ordered the remaining tanks to pull back, but Rivers had located the German anti-tank unit and, with one other tank, moved to fire on the area and cover the withdrawal. In the process, Rivers was fully exposed, and the Germans quickly trained their fire on his tank, landing two direct hits with high-explosive shells. Rivers was killed instantly.

Rivers’ final acts, which demonstrated a profound loyalty to his fellow soldiers and dedication to the war effort, earned him the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor. However, although Captain Williams recommended Rivers for the decoration on November 20, 1944, it would not come until more than fifty years later. Rivers’ story is indicative of the lack of recognition that was afforded to Black American soldiers who served during World War II. Of the 433 Medals of Honor awarded to World War II servicemen, none went to a black American, although over a million served in the armed forces. On January 13, 1997, some of these omissions were rectified:

In the early 1990s, it was determined Black American soldiers had been denied consideration for the Medal of Honor in World War II because of their race. In 1993, the U.S. Army had contracted Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, to research and determine if there was racial disparity in the review process for recipients of the Medal of Honor (MOH). The study commissioned by the U.S. Army, described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding decorations during World War II. After an exhaustive review of files, the study recommended in 1996 that Rivers, and nine Black Americans from World War II, be awarded the MOH. In October of that year, Congress passed legislation that would allow President Bill Clinton to award the Medal of Honor to these World War II soldiers. Seven of the ten including Rivers were approved, and awarded the MOH (six had their Distinguished Service Crosses revoked and upgraded to the MOH) on January 12, 1997. On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton presented the MOH to the seven Black Americans; Staff Sergeant Rivers and five others were posthumously presented the medal. Rivers’ sister, Grace Woodfork, received her brother’s MOH in his stead from Clinton during the ceremony.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Staff Sergeant Rivers distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action during 16-19 November 1944, while serving with Company A, 761st Tank Battalion. On 16 November 1944, while advancing toward the town of Guebling, France, Staff Sergeant Rivers’ tank hit a mine at a railroad crossing. Although severely wounded, his leg slashed to the bone, Staff Sergeant Rivers declined an injection of morphine, refused to be evacuated, took command of another tank, and advanced with his company into Guebling the next day. 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. At dawn that day, Company As’ tanks advanced toward Bourgaltoff, their next objective, but were stopped by enemy fire. Captain David J. Williams, the Company Commander, ordered his tanks to withdraw and take cover. Staff Sergeant Rivers, however, radioed that he had spotted the German antitank positions: “I see ’em. We’ll Fight’em!” Staff Sergeant Rivers, joined by another Company A tank, opened fire on enemy tanks, covering Company A as they withdrew. While doing so, Staff Sergeant Rivers’ tank was hit, killing him and wounding the rest of the crew. Staff Sergeant Rivers’ fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his unit and exemplify the highest traditions of military service.