Monday, May 10, 2010

Nothing but Praise

One of the things I often tell people who want to write on military history is to not re-invent the wheel. There is nothing I hate more than someone doing the same old book someone else has already done. This goes double for anything related to the101st AB. There are so many interesting units out there that cry out for documentation, and we are about at the last minute for getting memories for veterans.

So I give a tip of my cap … I mean… beret… to the Office of History of the Corps of Engineers. They have recently published a book called "Nothing but Praise: a History of the 1321st Engineer General Service Regiment. It is based upon the donated papers and photographs of the commanding officer. The family should be congratulated in finding such a place to give them to, as the result is a pretty good tribute to the officers and men of this little known unit.

The 3121st was a black unit with white officers in the ETO. It was one of many such generic engineer units that probably would have gone without notice had this book not been written. Spike Lee. Here's a story you could have done that would have not been such an embarrassment.

One of the things that really struck me was that unlike WW1, the WW2 general service units were pretty well equipped. In WW1 they were little more than labor battalions with pick and shovel. In the 1940's the US Army did not do anything by hand that could be done faster in a mechanized way. These guys used bulldozers, steam shovels, trucks, pneumatic hammers, rock crushers, and so on. The thing you might not get at first is this meant these guys (often poor black men from the south that had little chance for education) were suddenly given training on how to operate and maintain these things. They learned valuable skills that would transfer directly into civilian like (note Mauldin's "You're lucky, you're learning a trade").

I don't think anyone has really looked at what kind of impact this training, which probably would have never been within the grasp of many of these men, had after the war. At the very least I would like to see a survey of the jobs and skills listed for these men upon induction, and then when they were discharged. Perhaps there is a way to see how many of them went into a similar field in civilian life (Maybe check obituaries?). Here's a readymade thesis or dissertation topic for you (or a really cool book).

As for this one my main complaint it that is it too short. It's a small format softcover much like the local history books we see nowadays. The photos are great, and there is a hint here are many, many more that could have been shown. A negative point is they "design" the book a bit too much to include things like a photo of a compass, when I would prefer to see another photo of one of the men. Even if they decided not to add in more text (and I would suggest a capsule mention of all the similar units at the end, or a good T/O&E) they could have just made the pages larger and thus made the photos bigger. Of course, this is just what I would wish, and if wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak.

So I'm quite pleased that the engineer folks did this book. Especially Michael J. Broadhead who edited the work. It is things like this that make it worthwhile donating material to government organizations. For sale from the USGPO, but also at Amazon: Nothing but Praise, by Aldo H. Bagnulo, Government Printing Office, 2009, 978-0-16-083672-5.

It is a $12 book, and it can be found on

But you can download a free copy of it at the Corps of Engineers website. It did take me a while to actually find the durn thing, so here you go.

For more info on the book:


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