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Historical Vignette 112 - African-American Engineer Troops

African-American Engineer Troops Contributed Significantly to the Allied Victory in World War II

During World War II, many African-Americans served in engineer general service regiments within a segregated Army. In theory, these units were “trained and equipped to undertake all types of general engineer work,” which usually entailed the construction and repair of roads, airfields, and bridges. In practice, several black regiments were ill-trained and not given proper equipment. Unfortunately, many of the white officers assigned to the black units were hostile to the men they were supposed to lead and assumed they could not be taught to operate machinery. Accordingly, the men of many black engineer units were given duties requiring little or no skill.

Fortunately, however, there were leaders who rejected the stereotype and believed their men had great potential. Together they achieved outstanding results. The 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment, for example, compiled a record of solid achievement. Activated on 16 August 1943, its commander was Lt. Col. (later Col.) Aldo H. Bagnulo, the son of Italian immigrants and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His faith in the men under his command paid off.

Enlisted soldier of the 1321st - although the 1321st
was within a segregated Army, African-Americans served
as both commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

At Camp Sutton, North Carolina, Bagnulo saw to it that his regiment was thoroughly trained before its departure to England in October 1944. In England the 1321st procured necessary equipment, and the men received further training.

The regiment landed in France on 7 December 1944. Moving through the Vosges Mountains and elsewhere in eastern France, it supported the Seventh Army and the French First Army by maintaining roads and bridges along the main supply routes. It also rehabilitated French military installations for American use, shipped lumber to the Seventh Army, laid pipe for supplying gasoline, and operated water points. By this time the men had acquired skills in electrical wiring, carpentry, welding, and plumbing. Sometimes the soldiers of the 1321st carried out their tasks while under enemy fire.

Enlisted soldier of the 1321st - although the 1321st
was within a segregated Army, African-Americans served
as both commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

At Camp Sutton, North Carolina, Bagnulo saw to it that his regiment was thoroughly trained before its departure to England in October 1944. In England the 1321st procured necessary equipment, and the men received further training.

The regiment landed in France on 7 December 1944. Moving through the Vosges Mountains and elsewhere in eastern France, it supported the Seventh Army and the French First Army by maintaining roads and bridges along the main supply routes. It also rehabilitated French military installations for American use, shipped lumber to the Seventh Army, laid pipe for supplying gasoline, and operated water points. By this time the men had acquired skills in electrical wiring, carpentry, welding, and plumbing. Sometimes the soldiers of the 1321st carried out their tasks while under enemy fire.

Soldiers of the 1321st operating heavy machinery

Soldiers of the 1321st constructed roads, bridges, buildings, and operated
heavy machinery like welders in both the European and Pacific Theaters.

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February 2008