CRECY, WARREN GAMALIEL HARDING
CRECY, WARREN GAMALIEL HARDING (1923–1976). Warren G. H. Crecy was a United States Army soldier who earned distinction as a member of the 761st Tank Battalion (the Black Panther Battalion) during World War II. Named after the twentieth-ninth president of the United States, Warren Gamaliel Harding Crecy was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on January 4, 1923. He was the sixth of eight children of Minnie Samuel Crecy and Ada Mae (Cantzon) Crecy. Family and friends referred to him as Harding. Growing up, Crecy earned a reputation as a polite, mild-mannered, driven, and confident individual. At age twelve, he presented his future wife nine-year-old Margaret Petri’s mother flowers, ice cream, and a pledge to marry her daughter. The couple married nine years later in December 1943. As a member of the football team at Solomon M. Coles High School, Crecy established himself as a tough offensive lineman in spite of his small size. On the gridiron, he shed his polite manner for an aggressive one—a trait he would later display in combat. Crecy graduated from high school a few months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
On April 12, 1942, Crecy enlisted in the United States Army at Fort Sam Houston. Early in his enlistment, he was selected for armored crewmen training as one of a small group of African Americans. After basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Crecy returned to Texas as a member of the 761st Tank Battalion at Camp Hood (later Fort Hood) for unit training. Formed in March 1942 at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, the segregated 761st Tank Battalion consisted of African American enlisted soldiers and black and white officers.
Like the other members of the 761st Tank Battalion, Warren Crecy faced many obstacles during World War II. African Americans faced discrimination in various forms at Camp Claiborne and Camp Hood. In fact, military authorities sought and failed to court-martial Lt. Jackie Robinson (the future Hall of Fame baseball player and a member of the 761st) after an incident with a white bus driver at Camp Hood. A positive person by nature, Crecy accepted the challenges thrown before him and excelled in his military training. His platoon sergeant at Camp Hood recalled Warren Crecy as the “most gung-ho” member of his unit who sought to outperform others. In fact, Crecy took great pride in his training—first on the M5 Stuart light tank and then on the M4 Sherman medium tank. Like other tank crews that placed names on their tanks, Crecy named his crew’s tank “Crecy.” At Camp Hood, he also developed a close friendship with fellow soldier Horatio Scott, a friendship that later was a contributing factor in Crecy’s record in combat.
In August 1944 the 761st was notified they would be deployed to Europe. On September 7, the Black Panthers arrived in Dorset, England, by ship. After drawing new equipment, the battalion landed in Normandy at Omaha Beach on October 10. Assigned to the Third Army under the command of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., the Black Panthers saw action in France and Germany in the final months of World War II. Having attained the rank of sergeant, Warren G. H. Crecy’s military training and skills as a tank commander proved important assets in combat against a desperate German enemy.
The 761st experienced their first taste of combat in the Lorraine Campaign near Morville-lès-Vic on November 8, 1944. The Black Panthers became the first African American armored unit to experience combat. On November 9, Crecy’s unit entered the fighting and witnessed tough enemy resistance in northern Morville. After an antitank emplacement halted his tank, Crecy immediately climbed out of the vehicle and sought to remedy the situation. He managed to take command of a jeep with a .30 caliber machine gun and began firing toward the German position. He killed most of its occupants and forced others to flee. Crecy and his tank crew found a serviceable tank in which they reentered combat. Sometime later, Crecy’s second tank found itself stuck in mud in a field outside Morville and taking direct fire from German machine guns. After dismounting from his tank, Crecy witnessed an infantry unit under intense enemy fire near his position. He then mounted his immobilized tank and began firing the .50 caliber machine gun on the turret at German positions, thus allowing the infantry personnel a means to escape. For his efforts, Crecy was later awarded the Silver Star.
Warren Crecy was devastated by the death of friend and fellow soldier Horatio Scott in November 1944. Motivated to revenge the death of his friend, Crecy killed many Germans from behind a machine gun. Numerous eyewitness accounts indicate Crecy’s acts of courage in combat earned him such nicknames as “Iron Man,” and “the Baddest Man in the 761st.” By the time the European conflict ended, Crecy had grown tired of the killing. For his combat performance, he was awarded a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant in May 1945.
The 761st remained in combat for 183 consecutive days and suffered a casualty rate of about 50 percent until the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. In six months of battle, while assigned to three different commands, the unit inflicted 130,000 enemy casualties and liberated or destroyed 30 towns, 34 tanks, and 461 wheeled vehicles. Although Crecy was nominated for the Medal of Honor, a Senior Awards Board reviewed Crecy’s record in the 1990s and maintained his actions fell short of upgrading his medal.
With the end of World War II, Lieutenant Crecy remained in the army. From most indications, he enjoyed the military. From 1945 to 1950 he remained in Germany and served in a number of assignments. During the Nuremberg Trials, he served as a prison officer. In 1950 Crecy was assigned to Fort Benning, Georgia, and served as a company commander in an all-white unit. Ordered to Korea, Crecy served there for three months in 1952. On October 13, 1952, First Lieutenant Crecy suffered significant head, face, and internal injuries from a mortar shell explosion after he dismounted from a tank. For the next several years and after many medical procedures, he struggled to live.
The latter years of Crecy’s life proved quite difficult. Although he returned to active duty, he continued to receive treatments for his wounds. His goal to return to a tank battalion went unfulfilled. In 1965 the army granted Crecy a medical retirement at the rank of major. Upon retirement he received the Army Commendation Medal along with a citation for meritorious service. Apparently, he and his wife divorced in 1966. For the rest of his life, he lived in San Francisco, California, and spent periods in the Letterman Army Hospital at the Presidio. Although suffering from his own injuries, he devoted much effort to motivate wounded soldiers. In 1976 he experienced satisfaction when his son Warren Harding Crecy, Jr., graduated from West Point, and by his own attendance for the first time at a reunion of the 761st Tank Battalion.
Looking at his military career, Warren G. H. Crecy distinguished himself during and after World War II. Like the other Black Panthers of the 761st Tank Battalion, Crecy demonstrated that African Americans possessed the abilities to fight and inflict damage on the enemy in combat. They also proved they could excel in a segregated American military. Other honors for Crecy included the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart with three Oak Leaf Clusters. At the age of fifty-three, Warren G. H. Crecy died on October 26, 1976, in San Francisco. At the time of his death, Crecy was survived by Margaret Crecy and his sons Lawrence and Warren Harding. Another son, Warren Ashley, died as a result of a car accident in 1951. The World War II hero known as “the Baddest Man of the 761st” was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. In his hometown of Corpus Christi, a street was named for him at the Naval Air Station.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton, Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WW II’s Forgotten Heroes (New York: Broadway Books, 2004). Gina M. Dinicolo, The Black Panthers: A Story of Race, War, and Courage (Yardley, Pennsylvania: Westholme Publishing, 2017). Korean War Casualties (www.koreanwarcasualties.org), accessed November 9, 2017. James B. Martin, ed., African American War Heroes (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2014). Charles W. Sasser, Patton’s Panthers: The African-American 761st Tank Battalion in World War II (New York: Pocket Books, 2005). Joe Wilson, Jr., The 761st “Black Panther” Tank Battalion in World War II: An Illustrated History of the First African American Armored Unit to See Combat (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1999). Ralph A. Wooster, Texas and Texans in World War II (Fort Worth: Eakin Press, 2005). 761st Tank Battalion (www.761st.com), accessed November 9, 2017.
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