World War II veteran Raymond W. Burrell Sr.’s family has donated his personal memorabilia into our permanent collection here at the museum. A graduate of Middlesex High School, 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, and after training in Texas and New York, he left for Europe.
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. He was part of the D-Day invasion of November 8, 1944 on Omaha Beach, in France.
On November 2, General George S. Patton 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. He and his fellow comrades of the 761st Tank Battalion fought because they wanted peace, liberty, and justice for all Americans. Their unit was segregated, and proved a point that they were just as good as any white man in the armed forces.
Upon returning home, Burrell lived a very full life in Hardyville: he married Clarice Burrell and became the father of 3 children, daughter Leanna, and sons Robert and Raymond Jr. He spent his career working in the Newport News Shipyard and Drydock Company in Newport News from where he retired. He lived to be 100 years old. In 2022, a roadside memorial was installed and dedicated in his honor in Deltaville.
Part of the pieces accessioned into the museum’s permanent collection include the shadow box pictured here 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. Also coming into the collection is his enlistment papers, dog tags, a large photo of the 761st Tank Battalion, Burrell’s Army Uniform, many photos, newspaper articles, and his personal letters home. These pieces will be on display in the Veterans section of the museum.