Paul L. Bates, the white colonel who refused to court martial Jackie Robinson and the commander of the first black tank battalion to go into battle in World War II, has died at 86.
He died of cancer at home on Tuesday, daughter-in-law Dorothy Bates said.
The 761st Tank Battalion entered combat in November 1944 as part of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army and fought for 183 consecutive days without relief, veteran David Williams wrote in his memoirs, “Hit Hard.”
The unit captured, destroyed or liberated more than 30 major towns, 34 tanks and four airfields.
In 1978, President Carter awarded the 761st a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism.
Bates took command of the battalion, all of whose enlisted men were black, in January 1943.
When the unit finished training in rigidly segregated boot camps, Bates refused a promotion from lieutenant colonel that would have separated him from the battalion he called one of the Army’s best. He was eventually promoted to full colonel.
At a segregated boot camp in Texas, Bates refused to court martial a black officer for refusing to move to the back of a bus at Fort Hood.
That officer was Robinson, who went on to break the color barrier in major league baseball by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Three years ago, a PBS documentary erroneously credited the 761st and another all-black battalion credited with liberating Dachau and Buchenwald in 1945. Producers later said the piece was flawed but that the 761st did help liberate a subcamp at Mauthausen.
Bates will be buried Wednesday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
He is survived by his wife, two sons and three grandchildren.