Nothing but Praise: A History of the 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment

When I drew up a list of possible blog topics, this new book from the Army Corps of Engineers was an obvious choice for someone like me, who likes to investigate less well- known historical subjects. There were three reasons for me to be interested. Although key to the success of any army, Engineer units tend to labor in the shade of more “glamorous” branches. Also, even though African-Americans made up the bulk of enlisted personnel in World War II-era engineer outfits, their accomplishments are even less well-known that those of the Corps overall. Finally, Nothing but Praise was written by the 1321st’s commanding officer, Aldo H. Bagnulo. It consists of his unpublished history of the unit, a diary he kept during the war, and an extensive array of photographs of  unit personnel and activities. (The book was carefully edited and annotated by Corps historian Michael J. Brodhead).

The 1321st was an Engineer General Service regiment, which means that its personnel were well-trained in the various building and engineering trades before deployment overseas. The regiment’s job was to build and maintain bridges, roads, and various structures needed to keep wartime supplies stored and supply lines moving. In the course of its service in France and Germany, from December 1944 until several months after Germany’s surrender, the 1321st worked diligently and well in all kinds of weather and quasi-combat conditions in highly creditable fashion, as documented by the receipt of the Bronze Star by six officers and nine enlisted men. Viewed from this perspective, Bagnulo sheds welcome light on the crucial but often neglected role of the Army Corps of Engineers in supporting the logistics of war.

Bagnulo’s treatment of the racial aspects of his command is intriguing. His unpublished manuscript never refers to race at all. Reading it out of the context of this published edition makes it sound like every other small military unit – the rigors of training, the weeding out of the less fit, the occasional wild party, terrible weather, back-breaking work, intense fear, and finally a feeling of accomplishment duly rewarded by official recognition of a job well done.

In his diary, Bagnulo does mention race a few times. It’s clear that, although a man of his time, he made a conscious effort to eschew prejudice. One issue he cites as productive of tension after V-E Day sprang from his African-American officers’ concern about fairness in promotion; Bagnulo strongly endorsed merit promotion in two meetings with them, which he seemed to think was helpful. He was clearly comfortable with addressing such issues head-on, which must have been unusual in those days.

In mid-1945, the 1321st shipped out to the Pacific theater, didn’t get there before the surrender of Japan, and spent several months building roads and bridges in Korea before demobilization. Afterward, Bagnulo had a long career in the Army and at NASA before retiring.

The verdict: A valuable read for anyone interested in the sinews of war and the story of  race relations in America. Nothing but Praise is available from GPO.

For more about the creation of Nothing but Praise, check out this Army Corps of Engineers video. Note: GPO’s Creative Services organization did a great job in designing this book.

17 Responses to Nothing but Praise: A History of the 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment

  1. Visit Website says:

    Really….such a useful site.

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  2. Dave says:

    I Love this blog. we can all learn about each other from the struggles that these guys had when race relations were a massive problem .

    Dave

    Like

  3. Blanche says:

    Wow, awesome weblog layout! How lengthy have you been running a blog
    for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site
    is fantastic, let alone the content!

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  4. Josie says:

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  5. mitchelamaral says:

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for the great information. I was looking for it for my mission.

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  6. Life Through a Lenz Photography says:

    Sounds like a really good book and I have just ordered a copy from Amazon. Can’t wait to read it

    Leeds, Yorkshire, Photographer

    Like

  7. kate freeman linkedin says:

    A very compelling post for sure. Kindly make sure that the blog is lengthy enough to give users a good experience.

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  8. DVR Man says:

    Sounds like a blast!Cool book.

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  9. credit repair software babe says:

    Nothing but praise seems have a good book. Its very informative and people will enjoy reading this a lot.

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  10. Ron says:

    This book looks like it will be a good read. Sound like a commander who lead by example.

    Like

  11. shola says:

    Great great site. I found it interesting that even when the racism was still very common, some heroic people like this 1321st Engineer refused to follow the mass. Thanks for this site.

    Like

  12. Tom Diaz says:

    This is in re an earlier work by Dr. Michael J. Brodhead: Panama Canal–An Army’s Enterprise. I am trying to get in touch with him or anyone who knows where the actual reports of trail reconnaissances by the 11th Engineers in Panama are archived. My father, then SSgt Gregorio A. Diaz, and two other soldiers had quite an adventure in 1933, actually captured by San Blas Indians. I have found confirmation in the unit records, but not the actual detailed report of their reconnaissance. I would like to either find out where to go to see the records or get in touch with Dr. Brodhead. Thanks you, Tom Diaz

    Like

  13. […] bookmark-worthy for history buffs and Beltway nerds who love old government posters, military history and military-commissioned Dr. Seuss […]

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  14. Jane Steele,MA says:

    My dad the late AR Steele was a Mechanical Engineering major at NCA&T State University when he was drafted in 1943. He served with a non-engineering group and also worked closly with the Red Ball Express. And he did see lots of combat which was(along with the gentlemen in this most excellent read) not pleasant at all. He received several small Bronze Stars plus several other medals. He was just like these gentlemen: brave,lots of courage and had a good sense of quiet humor. He returned to the US in 1946 and returned to A&T as a Summer School Student/Student Instructor in the Math Dept. The dept. head remembered him and gave him a much needed job. Although Daddy did not finnish college(due to his mom having brest cancer and a lack of funds) he went onto start a business(along with his dad and my grandfather the late Forest McKinley Steele who was a teacher) and worked for Norfolk-Southern Railroad. I miss both him and my mom a lot but have them in my heart where ever I go. We need more books of this type published because this “Greatest Generation” is fast leaving us. Jane Steele,MA Educator

    Like

  15. hans fredbäck says:

    I have initiated a research group called The Civil Engineer in War – A Swedish Perspektive.

    Like

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