Among the noted Middlesex County residents featured in our Homegrown Heroes documentary (you can watch it here) was Raymond W. Burrell. Below find his full biography which his family so graciously provided to the Middlesex Museum, as well as photos of Mr. Burrell through the years.
Republished here with permission from his family.
Raymond W. Burrell was born on May 9, 1919 in Mathews County, Virginia to the late Molegold and Annabel Burrell. He is last remaining sibling of 7.
Mr. Burrell graduated high school in Middlesex County and is a member of First Baptist Church Amburg He was married to the late Clarice Burrell and the father of 3 children, daughter Leanna, son Robert and his late son Raymond Jr. Mr. Burrell retired from the Newport News Shipyard and Drydock Company in Newport News, VA.
On December 16, 1942, Mr. Burrell was inducted into World War II from Baltimore, Maryland, to become one of many black men to enlist in the 761st Tank Battalion. In December 23, 1942, he entered into active service at Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training at Armored Force Training School when finished there he went to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Being a black detachment and segregated down in the south, everything was done in the back door. Mr. Burrell finished training at Camp Hood, Texas and was on my way to Camp shank, New York.
Mr. Burrell left New York to go to Merly Park, England and from there to Omaha Beach, in France. The 761st Tank Battalion was assigned to General George S. Patton, as part of the 26th Infantry Division of the 12 Corps in the Third Army. The morning of November 8, 1944 was D-Day or Judgment in the Saar Basin, the area which had been assigned to the 26th Division embraced a number of key towns and cities along an escape and supply routes for the citadel of Metz untaken in 1000 years. The Allies were driving at Metz from 3 sides with incirclement as the object.
Facing them was part of the German 11th SS Panzer Division, which had been rebuilt with some 12,000 reserve troops, 30 big guns, and many tanks. Either they take the hill, be prisoners of war, or be shanghaied for swimming the English Channel back to England. The other forces establish that beach head there were suffering from battle fatigue, but they made it to the front with flying colors and we stopped at Saint Nicholas de-Port, for a breather.
They were trained to do all 5 positions in the tank crew, but never been on a battle field before. Everyone got real quiet and serious. Everyone was sad and down hearted and saw a lot of dead along the way. On November 1, 1944, Division Commander Major General Paul gave them a welcome speech, saying “I am glad to have you with us. We have been expecting you for a long time, and I am sure that you are going to give a good account of yourselves. I’ve got a big hill up there that I want you to take, and I believe that you are going to do a great job of it.”
On November 2, General George S. Patton, stood on the same half track. He gave them a rousing welcome saying “Men, you’re the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don’t care what color you are, so long as you go up there and kill those Germans. Everyone has their eyes on you and are expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you doing well. Don’t let them down, and don’t let me down!”
In 183 days of front line fighting, Mr. Burrell came home without a scratch. His fellow comrades of the 761st Tank Battalion didn’t do all this because they were segrated and had to prove a point that they were just as good as any white man in the armed forces, they did it because we wanted peace, liberty, and justice for all Americans.
Mr. Burrell was honored on June 8, 2014 at First Baptist Church Amburg I Deltaville, VA during the Men’s Day Program. Colonel Stephanie A. Lewis, Reserve Chief of Northern Command Exercise Support Team for the Joint Staff, presented Mr. Burrell with a shadow box that contained his medals, a patch of his unit, his picture in uniform, and flag flown at the U.S. Capitol from Senator Mark Warner and a poster of the 761st book cover.