By Raymond Fiore
Updated May 07, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

When basketball legend Abdul-Jabbar discovered that close family friend Leonard ”Smitty” Smith was a WWII vet who had served with the 761st Battalion — the first all-African-American armored unit deployed on foreign soil — he decided to write this exhaustively researched book. Despite meticulously detailing the journey from training in racist Fort Hood, Tex., to the brutal charge of the Battle of the Bulge, the authors erect a dry, textbook-voiced monument to their brave subjects. The main casualties are the potentially riveting stories (like Smith faking death to avoid German detection), which would be better told in the soldiers’ own vivid words.