Warren Gamaliel Harding Crecy was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on January 4, 1923. Those who knew him called him “Harding.”
He and his wife Margaret grew up together as childhood friends. One Sunday, when she was nine and Harding was twelve, he showed up at her house all dressed up, with a bouquet of flowers and a carton of ice cream—for her mother. Crecy announced he had come to ask for Margaret to marry him when she reached eighteen years old.
Nine years later, they did just that. It was an early example of Harding’s qualities of determination and persistence.
But first, Crecy enlisted in the U.S. Army after he graduated high school. That was right around the time the U.S. entered World War II. After basic training, he was sent to the 761st Tank Battalion, where he became a tank commander.
General Lesley J. McNair, the commander of Army Ground Forces, wanted African Americans to be able to serve in combat.
Most African Americans who joined the armed forces at the time served in supporting roles, such as cooks. McNair believed they should be allowed to fight as they had done in past conflicts.
However, Federal law forbade black troops from serving in the same units as white troops. Thus, among other African American units, the 761st Tank Battalion was created as an “independent” battalion. That meant they were segregated, though commanded by white officers.
The 761st was called the “Black Panthers” due to their logo. Their motto was “Come Out Fighting.”
The battalion lived up to its motto during its sojourn in Europe, with its members receiving several awards, including a Medal of Honor.
Among the Black Panthers who distinguished themselves was Crecy—not that this particular “baby faced” tank commander looked the part of a killer.
Crecy wore horn-rimmed glasses and had soft fuzz on his upper lip that never seemed to make it into a proper mustache. He was said to be quiet, polite, easy-going, even meek and shy. He was generally considered the “nicest” man in the battalion.
However, there is a saying that still waters run deep. Having grown up in a time when blacks in the South were treated as subhuman, Crecy’s waters must have run deep indeed.
Before long, his reputation as a fighter directly contradicted his “nice guy” appearance. Corporal Harry Tyree, Crecy’s tank driver, was nervous in his job because Crecy seemed to become another person once the fighting began.
The 761st saw action in France in early November 1944 in the towns of Moyenvic, Vic-sur-Seille, and Morville-lès-Vic. By the end of the month, they had lost 24 men and 14 tanks.
Sergeant Crecy often rode atop his tank, firing away at German soldiers. He would bark orders at Tyree to drive into the thick of battle, not caring how vulnerable he was.
His superiors reprimanded him for reckless conduct, but never punished him for it. It was war, after all, and he was exactly the type of man they needed.
On November 10, 1944, outside the commune of Morville in Normandy’s Manche department, Crecy was with D Company when his unit came under fire which destroyed his tank.
Jumping out of the burning machine with only a .30 caliber machine gun, he ran toward a machine gun nest and destroyed it. He then took out another enemy position.
Later, he was in another tank doing screening operations when an infantry lieutenant of the 26th Division flagged him down.
The officer wanted a lift through the woods and up a nearby hill to get a better view of the fighting. He believed a tank would improve his chances of reaching his goal alive.
The going was rough. Heavy snow lay on the ground, and the tank’s treads kept slipping and sliding. Sometimes the vehicle got bogged down. It got worse as they made their way up the hill.
They had just broken out of the cover of the trees near the summit when they came under enemy fire. Crecy, riding exposed on top of the tank, ordered Tyree to back up into the woods.
Tyree did so—straight into an anti-tank ditch covered by snow. The tank got stuck, exposing its underbelly to enemy fire.
Ducking back inside, Crecy radioed for help. Another tank arrived minutes later.
Braving intense enemy fire, Crecy jumped out of the hatch, ran to the other tank, and attached a winch to his own tank. After his tank had been pulled out of the ditch, he climbed back in just as an armor-piercing shell bounced off the right side of its hull.
Tyree tried to move back into the tree line, but the tank would not budge.
Meanwhile, Crecy saw that German machine gunners were pinning down the infantry unit behind the rescuing tank, so he used the tank’s .50 caliber machine gun to mow down the enemy.
He knocked out several machine gun positions, relieving the infantry so that they could continue their advance.
They eventually got out of there, but hours later, they again came under fire from several machine gun nests. Seeing some of his friends get hit, Crecy went berserk, determined to kill as many Germans as possible.
Altogether, he personally destroyed multiple machine gun nests and an anti-tank position that day, with no regard for his own safety. His unit had to pry his empty machine gun out of his hands afterward.
They called him the “Baddest Man in the 761st” after that and nominated him for a Medal of Honor. Instead, he received the Silver Star. He also earned a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant.
After WWII, Crecy remained in the Army and went on to serve in the Korean War, where he was badly wounded. He eventually retired from the Army as a major in 1965.
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