The white colonel who refused to court-martial Lt. Jackie Robinson after the man who was to integrate major league baseball refused to move to the rear of a bus, has died.
Paul L. Bates, commander of the first black tank battalion to enter combat in World War II, died Tuesday in Dunedin, Fla., at age 86.
Bates was in charge of the 761st Tank Battalion, which entered combat in November, 1944, as part of Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army.
"Hit Hard," a book published about the unit, said it fought for 183 days without relief. In battles in France, Germany and Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge, the 761st was credited with capturing or destroying 30 major towns, four airstrips, ammunition dumps and hundreds of vehicles and tanks.
Bates, who months earlier had refused a promotion to full colonel because it would have separated him from the tank battalion whose members proudly wore black panther shoulder patches, eventually was promoted. He became the first of 276 to be wounded among the 687 enlisted men and 41 officers in the 761st.
Before going overseas, Bates had been studying charges against Robinson, then an Army lieutenant who had refused to sit in the rear of a bus at Ft. Hood, Tex. Bates declined to court-martial him but others in the Army made a decision to do so. Robinson stood trial and was acquitted. The former UCLA all-around athlete left the 761st before it went to Europe.
After many years of lobbying, the battalion's efforts were finally recognized nationally in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter gave it a presidential citation for "extraordinary heroism in action."
Bates, a Los Angeles native, was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for his wartime exploits. He retired from the Army in 1963.