Buffalo honors its “Black Panther” of World War II

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Veterans, elected officials, and community leaders gathered on Norway Park, in Buffalo’s Humboldt Park neighborhood to dedicate a “trailblazer sign” naming Norway Park, “Russell A. Guthrie Way”, Friday afternoon.

Guthrie was a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II, and those who participated in the dedication ceremony said Sgt. Guthrie was–by just about any measure–a true trailblazer.

The Buffalo native, a lifelong resident of Norway Park, enlisted in the Army at the tender age of 16 which was too young to be inducted, but the Army allowed it with the consent of Guthrie’s family.

Sandi Williams, founder and president of the United Veterans of Buffalo, spearheaded the sign dedication, and praised Guthrie as a true war hero, “Sgt. Guthrie loved his country and he was a proud veteran, and he was proud to be a member of the 761st Tank Battalion.”

The Army’s 761st Tank Battalion was an all-black unit, known as the “Black Panthers”, because the the armed services were segregated, as a matter of law, until after the war.

They trained in the Deep South, and among the Black Panthers was 1st Lt. Jackie Robinson–before he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier–who was court-martialed for refusing to go to the back of the bus at Fort Hood Texas.

Charles Price, a member of the legendary “Tuskegee Airmen”–a segregated unit of the Army Air Corps–remembers the prejudice black service members faced in the South. Price, of Rochester, attended the ceremony, and recalled the train ride, as a teenager from Upstate New York, to boot camp in Mississippi.

“Most of us, when we got down there we would not even take a three-day pass, or even get a pass, because we were scared to go off the base.”

The 761st finally saw action when Gen. George S. Patton himself sent Sgt. Guthrie and his fellow tank men to the front lines. Patton adopted the 761st as “Patton’s Panthers”.

Former service member Erie County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams was inspired by Guthrie’s courage and perseverance, “He has left a legacy for other soldiers to continue to follow on.”

When Sgt. Guthrie returned from the war, he advocated for all veterans, and for his neighbors. State Senator Timothy Kennedy nominated Guthrie for the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.

“It was truly a tribute to not only the work he did on behalf of serving this country, and sacrificing himself for this nation, and each and every one of us, but what he did upon returning home, and giving back to our nation and our community.”

On Veterans Day, 2013, Guthrie recalled comrades he lost in the war, and those who died after they came home.

“It’s a sad feeling because I lost some real good friends of mine.”

Guthrie’s daughter, Susan Guthrie-Harwell said, her father was also a hero to his family, and never spoke of his service in the segregated Army with bitterness or anger.

“He was an amazing veteran, and he was proud, but he was such a great dad–he was such a great dad.”

A member of the 761st Battalion, SSgt. Ruben Rivers of Oklahoma would later be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton. Sgt. Guthrie died last year on July 5, and this past March, he was was inducted into the New York Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.

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