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First Name: Ruben

Last Name: Rivers

Birthplace: Tecumseh, OK, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 31 October 1918

Date of Death: 19 November 1944

Rank: Staff Sergeant

Years Served: 1942-1944
Ruben Rivers

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Ruben Rivers

Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers (31 October 1918 - 19 November 1944) was a U.S. Army soldier who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic operations during World War II.

Ruben Rivers was born on 31 October 1918 to Willie and Lillian Rivers in Tecumseh, OK. He grew up in nearby Hotulka, where, along with his eleven brothers and sisters, he worked on the family farm. After graduating from high school, Rivers worked on the railroad for a time.

With the United States' entry into World War II, Rivers and two of his brothers, Robert and Dewey, would offer their services to the military. However, Ruben would be the only one assigned to a combat unit, training with the all-black 761st Tank Battalion at Camp Hood, TX. Nicknamed the "Black Panthers," they were eventually assigned to General George S. Patton's Third Army. The battalion was implemented and performed with distinction in a number of important battles. [It is claimed by some that Patton himself never officially recognized their accomplishments.]

Rivers 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 Patton to be part of his Saar Campaign in the Allied drive to the Siegfried Line. On 8 November 1944, 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 stopped the progress of the tanks and infantry by using a felled tree and several mines. The Germans soon trained their mortar and rifle fire on infantrymen stranded in the roadside ditches, and the situation threatened to quickly produce heavy casualties. Rivers, positioned in the lead tank, realized that following procedure wouldn't alleviate the situation. Instead, he took action that resulted in the battalion's first Silver Star.

Unfortunately, the medal would have to be awarded posthumously. A little more than a week later Rivers again distinguished himself leading the platoon, but this time he was not as fortunate. On 16 November, 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. His commanding officer, Captain David J. Williams, later remembered what happened when he and the rest of the company came to aid Rivers:

With the morphine needle in my right hand about a half inch from Sergeant Rivers' leg, I could have told my sergeant to hold him down. I said, "Ruben, you're going back. You've got a million-dollar wound. You're going back to Tecumseh. You're getting out of this. You got a Silver Star and a Purple Heart." He says, "Captain, you're going to need me." I said, "I'm giving you a direct order! You're going back!" I said, Medics, get the stretcher." He pushed the needle away and got up. He said, "This is one order, the only order I'll ever disobey."

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 Able Company. It would not be until the morning of 19 November 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 the Panthers 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 retreat. 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 demonstrated a profound loyalty to his fellow soldiers and dedication to the war effort, and eventually earned him the Medal of Honor. Although Captain Williams recommended Rivers for the Medal on 20 November 1944, it was not awarded until more than fifty years later.

Medal of Honor

Citation: For extraordinary heroism in action during 15-19 November 1944, toward Guebling, France. Though severely wounded in the leg, Sergeant Rivers refused medical treatment and evacuation, took command of another tank, and advanced with his company in Guebling the next day. Repeatedly refusing evacuation, Sergeant Rivers continued to direct his tank's fire at enemy positions through the morning of 19 November 1944. At dawn, Company A's tanks began to advance towards Bougaktroff, but were stopped by enemy fire. Sergeant Rivers, joined by another tank, opened fire on the enemy tanks, covering company A as they withdrew. While doing so, Sergeant River's tank was hit, killing him and wounding the crew. Staff Sergeant Rivers' fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his unit and exemplify the highest traditions of military service.

Rivers' story is indicative of the lack of recognition afforded to African-American soldiers who served during World War II. Of the 433 Medals of Honor awarded to World War II servicemen, none went to an African-American, although over a million served in the armed forces. On 13 January 1997 some of these omissions were rectified when President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to the families of six African-American servicemen, and one living veteran. Grace Woodfork, one of Ruben Rivers' sisters, accepted her brother's Medal in his stead. Also on hand was Captain Williams, who had continued to fight for recognition of Rivers' heroism after the war.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Silver Star Medal
Purple Heart


Staff Sergeant Rivers Court in El Paso, TX, is named after Rivers.

Death and Burial

Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers was killed in action on 19 November 1944. He is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-Avold, Lorraine Region, France, in Plot C, Row 5, Grave 53.

Honoree ID: 1616   Created by: MHOH




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