April’s Engineer Moment in History

Posthumous presentation of Medal of Honor for SFC Paul Ray Smith’s actions under fire
Provided by the USAES Historian

SFC Paul Ray Smith, Medal of Honor recipient

SFC Paul Ray Smith

On 4 April 2003 near Baghdad International Airport, a large Iraqi force attacked SFC Paul Ray Smith and other Soldiers of Bravo Company, 11th Engineer Battalion of Task Force 2-7.  SFC Smith organized a defense of his unit’s position, returned fire against the enemy, and helped evacuate wounded Soldiers. His Medal of Honor citation tells what happened next: “Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers.” SFC Paul Ray Smith was found dead at his machine gun as the engagement ended. Two years later to the day on 4 April 2005, his eleven year-old son, David, received his father’s posthumous Medal of Honor from President George W. Bush.

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March’s Engineer Moment in History

MG Goethals

George W. Goethals photographed as a Major General.

Provided by the U.S. Army Engineer School Historian

After the French failed to construct a canal across Central America to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Americans took over this herculean project in 1904. The first American chief engineers were civilians who cracked under the strain of work and political pressure and soon resigned. By March 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt needed someone he could count on.  He declared, “I’m going to give it to the Army and to someone who can’t quit.”  The president found the right man for the job – LTC George W. Goethals.  He brought more than two decades of experience in the Corps of Engineers to his new job.  Goethals worked tirelessly to streamline workflow, end corruption, and find solutions to severe environmental problems.  He directed construction of the fifty-one-mile-long Panama Canal until it was opened in 1914. Later, during the First World War, MG Goethals put his superb managerial and leadership skills to use as the U.S. Army’s Assistant Chief of Staff and Director of Purchases, Stores, and Traffic.  He directed the logistical effort to supply more than one million American Soldiers deploying to Europe.

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February’s Engineer Moment in History

19th Kasserine Pass

American units in blue and German units in red - Source: The West Point Atlas of American Wars (1959)

Provided by the U.S. Army Engineer School Historian

On 14-16 February 1943 in the early stages of the Battle of Kasserine Pass, Germans forces inflicted heavy casualties on the U.S. 1st Armored Division.  As this bloodied unit began to withdraw, COL Anderson Moore’s 19th Engineer Combat Regiment and some infantry elements received orders to construct defenses to cover the division’s movement through the Kasserine Pass.  The 1st Armored Division successfully made its withdrawal on 17 February, but German forces were hot on its heels.  Meanwhile, as the map below shows, Moore’s Engineers laid mines and took up a defensive line together with the infantry elements blocking Kasserine Pass, just north of Kasserine village.  Throughout 18-19 February, the Germans made repeated attacks, first pushing the American infantry out of their positions on the eastern edge of the pass and finally forcing the 19th Engineers to retreat from the western edge.  However, their line held long enough to allow other American units to arrive and take up positions in the hills beyond to the northwest.  This prevented the Germans from exploiting their tactical victory at Kasserine Pass.  The 19th Engineers suffered more than 125 casualties out of 1,200 Engineers under COL Moore’s command.

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January’s Engineer Moment in History

Divers building a rebar cage for a pile cap. (U.S. Navy Photo)

Divers building a rebar cage for a pile cap. (U.S. Navy Photo)


Just twelve months ago on 12 January 2010, a massive earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians, and left even more homeless. The quake also demolished the main pier in the harbor. At that time, the 544th Engineer Dive Team was conducting a training exercise in the Caribbean. The 544th was diverted to Port-au-Prince to assess the damage to the pier and begin rehabilitation efforts as part of Operation Unified Response.  Arriving on 18 January, they spent the next ten weeks repairing or completely reconstructing the caps for 39 bents with 234 piles. The Engineer divers faced environmental hazards caused by filthy water and harsh conditions in Port-au-Prince’s harbor. Equipment break downs and weather changes also slowed progress. But, the Engineer divers persevered and rehabilitated a large section of the pier. Ships then used the pier to offload humanitarian supplies for the suffering Haitian people. Each of the 17 divers in the 544th logged about 350 hours of bottom time.  Navy divers and other Navy assets also provided material and logistical support.

For more on the 544th Engineer Dive Team’s efforts, see the lead article in the current issue of Engineer at: http://www.wood.army.mil/engrmag/Sep-Dec2010.htm

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December’s Engineer Moment in History

German movements are denoted by the red arrows, and American defensive positions are in blue.

The “Damned Engineers” of the 291st Engineer Battalion

On 15 December 1944 during a blizzard, the German Army launched a surprise attack against a thinly defended American sector in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium.  History knows this month-long engagement as the Battle of the Bulge.  The Germans ran roughshod over the American forces for the next ten days.  Nevertheless, the spirited American defense of Bastogne helped stall the German advance.  Less well known but no less significant were the countermobility roles played by Engineers in laying mines, erecting abatis, defending roadblocks, and blowing bridges.  One of the key examples of these efforts occurred on 18 December.  A German SS unit commanded by LTC Joachim Peiper tried to cross a bridge over Lienne Creek near Habiemont, Belgium (lower left edge of map).   However, elements of the 291st Engineer Battalion blew the bridge just as the German tanks rolled up.  As one source relates what happened next, a chagrined LTC Peiper “could only sit helplessly, pound his knee and swear, ‘The damned engineers! The damned engineers!’”  This episode on Engineers in the Battle of the Bulge and others like it can be found in the classic book, The Damned Engineers, by Janice Giles.

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Photo by Sgt. 1st Class John Queen Soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion, take up a defensive fighting positions as the battalion reenacts the Nov. 30, 1950, Korean War battle of Kunu-Ri during "Burning of the Colors" ceremony at Camp Dehdadi II in Northern Afghanistan. During the historic battle 60 years ago, more than 5,000 American soldiers were killed, wounded or captured by Chinese forces. When the battle was over, all but one officer of the battalion had been captured or killed. To prevent the colors from becoming a war trophy for the enemy, the command set it ablaze.

“CAMP DEHDADI II, Afghanistan – Soldiers of the United States Army’s 2nd Engineer Battalion, currently deployed to Camp Dehdadi II near Mazar-e-Sharif in Northern Afghanistan, conducted their unique, annual commemoration of the Korean War battle of Kunu-Ri Nov. 30.

Like most ceremonies that recognize a unit’s accomplishments, this one also pays tribute to an event that became a low point in the Battalion’s history – the burning of its Battalion Colors.

“We do it to honor the courage and sacrifice of our veterans – to commemorate their actions and acknowledge their place in history and the role they played in shaping the history of the 2nd Infantry Division and that of Korea,” said Lt. Col. Christopher M. Benson, commander of the 2nd Engineer Battalion. “We must never forget our history, nor the legacy our veterans left to us to maintain.”

As part of the ceremony, a scene is staged with Soldiers and equipment set to resemble the final moments leading up to the order to burn the flag.”

For complete story: http://www.dvidshub.net/news/61299/2nd-engineer-battalion-commemorates-battle-kunu-ri
Story by SFC John Queen

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Missouri S&T to award first master degrees in explosives – KansasCity.com

ROLLA, Mo. | The nation’s first master’s degrees in explosives engineering will be handed out this month at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

The university said the program was approved last year and is part of Missouri S&T’s mining and nuclear engineering department. Fifteen graduate students are enrolled in Missouri S&T’s explosives engineering program.

The degrees will be handed out to three students on Dec. 18.

Missouri S&T started offering a minor in explosives engineering at the undergraduate level in 2005

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/12/03/2494452/missouri-st-to-award-first-masters.html#ixzz174IQr9L3

Missouri S&T to award first master’s degrees in explosives – KansasCity.com.

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November’s Engineer Moment in History Part II


2009 commemoration of burning of the 2nd Engineer Battalion’s colors

Photo: 1LT Kathryn Jensen (2009), http://www.army.mil/-images/2009/12/15/59068/index.html, accessed 17 November 2010

60th Anniversary – 2nd Engineer Battalion burning the unit’s colors at Kunu-Ri

Every year, the 2nd Infantry Division and the 2nd Engineer Battalion reenact the events of 30 November 1950.   On that night near the village of Kunu-Ri in North Korea, Soldiers in the 2nd Engineer Battalion found themselves under heavy attack by wave after wave of the Chinese enemy.  The Engineers fought a desperate rear guard action so that the 2nd Division could retreat southward and escape pursuit by five Chinese divisions totaling 60,000 troops.  The outnumbered Engineers stood their ground as long as they could against overwhelming enemy forces, but the Chinese eventually overran the 2nd Engineer’s positions.  LTC Alarich Zacherle then gave orders to destroy all equipment and to burn unit’s colors to deny them to the Chinese.  All the battalion’s officers were killed or captured, except for just one captain.  The 2nd Engineer Battalion ceased to exist as an effective combat unit.  By early December, only 266 men remained of the battalion’s original 977 men.  Many Engineers not killed at Kunu-Ri were captured by the Chinese and suffered as prisoners of war.

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November’s Engineer Moment in History

ALCAN Highway completed in November 1942

ALCAN HighwayIn February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the construction of the Alaska Canadian Military Highway.   Work began the next month under direction of Brigadier General William H. Hoge.  The project was completed in November 1942 by more than 10,500 Engineers from  the 18th and 35th Engineer Combat Regiments, the 341st and 342nd Engineer General Service Regiments, and  African Americans in the 93rd, 95th, and 97th Engineer General Service Regiments (Colored).   Working round the clock, these Engineers bridged countless rivers and streams, and they constructed the road through rugged wilderness using everything from axes and saws to CAT D-7s and D-8s.  The ALCAN Highway became a major supply route linking Dawson’s Creek in British Columbia to Delta Junction near Fairbanks, Alaska.  It ran some 1,500 miles and transported equipment to American troops stationed in the Alaska.  Supplies were also sent from Alaskan ports to Soviet forces fighting the Germans. The ALCAN Highway ranked among the greatest engineering feats in the 20th century.

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October’s Engineer Moment in History

Surrender of General CornwallisOctober 19 marks the 229th anniversary of the surrender of General Cornwallis and his British troops at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781. This three week siege by a joint American and French force meant victory in the War for Independence.  American Sappers and Miners contributed to success by capturing the British Redoubt Ten a few days before the surrender.  Their courageous efforts allowed the Franco-American force to dig a second parallel near the British earthen fortifications and place their siege artillery at point-blank range.   This sealed the British fate because their continued resistance was impossible.  As Chief Engineer in George Washington’s Army, Brigadier General Louis Duportail planned the siege operations and directed the construction of the siege works.   Duportail demonstrated his genius as an engineer and firmly established himself at the rightful father of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer.

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