Foreword: Over the course of World War II, the U.S. Army deployed 325,000 engineers to the European Theater of Operations. Among the units that saw action in Europe were fifty-four engineer general service regiments. These heavily equipped units, which were attached to field armies or corps headquarters, performed general construction, road maintenance, or bridge work on the main routes of communication. During the war, the Army established seventy-nine such regiments, and in keeping with the policy at the time, engineers were segregated into predominantly white or African American units. Twenty-nine of the regiments were composed entirely of white soldiers, while the remaining fifty were African American. The 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment was one of those African American units.
Nothing But Praise: A History of the 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment chronicles the training and battlefield experiences of one unit that served in Europe during World War II. Yet, in many ways, the experiences of the 1321st mirrored those of other engineer units—both black and white—that served during the war: arduous training followed by prolonged deployments overseas. It is often said that Army engineers labored in the shadows of history, but if white general service regiments received little attention, the African American regiments often toiled in obscurity. This publication not only fills some of the gaps in engineer history, it attests to the crucial role engineers played in the Allied victory in Europe.
The officers and men of the 1321st Engineers learned their profession in the piney woods of the Carolinas and Tennessee. After completing basic training, they learned how to become engineers, acquiring the specialized skills that they would put to good use in Europe. The 1321st compiled an enviable record of accomplishment during World War II. In support of the Allied drive across France and into Germany, the 1321st repaired bridges and cleared roads. Later, when spring thaws and disintegrating roads threatened to disrupt the desperately needed flow of supplies to the front, the regiment repaired and maintained hundreds of miles of roads, highways, and bridges. The regiment’s well-trained carpenters, electricians, welders, machinists, and heavy equipment operators also renovated buildings, constructed hospitals, and built sprawling supply depots. At the end of the war, the Army transferred the 1321st to Korea where it served with distinction until 1946.
Although this history of the 1321st Engineers is largely the work of the unit’s commander, Col. Aldo H. Bagnulo, and therefore reflects his perspective and interpretation of events, the regiment’s record speaks for itself. This history of an accomplished unit also sheds new light on the role of African American engineers during World War II and in the process enriches the history of the entire Engineer Regiment.