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Tales of the 761st An NBA Hall of Famer chronicles a groundbreaking WWII Army unit

May 24, 2004
May 24, 2004

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May 24, 2004

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Tales of the 761st An NBA Hall of Famer chronicles a groundbreaking WWII Army unit

BROTHERS IN ARMS
by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton
Broadway, $24.95, 302 pages

This is an article from the May 24, 2004 issue

What inspires a basketball great to take on military history? For
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar it was a chance encounter at a 1992 screening
of a documentary on the U.S. Army's 761st tank battalion, the
first all-black armored unit to fight in World War II. At the
film Abdul-Jabbar ran into Leonard (Smitty) Smith, a retired New
York City transit cop and family friend. Kareem writes that as a
kid, "It never occurred to me that he even had a story." But that
night he learned that Smith had served in the 761st. The meeting
inspired Abdul-Jabbar to write Brothers in Arms, on Smith and his
historic unit.

The six-time NBA MVP--whose previous books include Black Profiles
in Courage and A Season on the Reservation--spent years
researching the 761st with co-author Anthony Walton. "The biggest
challenge," Abdul-Jabbar says, "was how to tell the story without
going over ground that had already been covered."

While other books chronicle the unit's role in winning the Battle
of the Bulge and in liberating concentration camps, Brothers in
Arms focuses on the recollections of Smith and comrades William
McBurney and Preston McNeil. It details everything from the smell
of sewage in the men's segregated barracks, "assailing the men
anew each time they came back to their quarters," to the way the
cold "turned the skin of the dead the purplish red color of
wine."

Now in their 80s, the men of the 761st have attended book
signings along with Kareem. Says Abdul-Jabbar, "They're happy to
have this story told in a way they could be proud of." --Melissa
Segura

COLOR PHOTO: BROADWAY BOOKS