(above insignia)127th AEB
11th Airborne WW II
of Honor Recipient
Pvt Elmer E Fryar
Pfc Manuel Perez Jr
The 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion
n November 12, 1942 the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion was
instituted. It was activated as an element of the 11th Airborne Division on 25 February, 1943,
at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, the birthplace of many airborne units. The Battalion consisted
of three letter companies, A, B, and C, plus a Headquarters and Service Company
From the date of activation until June of 1945, the battalion was commanded by
Lt. Col. Douglas C. Davis. The 127th was the second unit of Airborne Engineers to be activated.
The first unit was the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, which was assigned to the
82nd Airborne Division. In the decade that followed, these units became permanent Airborne
Engineer Battalions, and they were the only ones remaining in the United states Army after the
Second World War. During these years, select parachutists in the Corps of Engineers were assigned
and reassigned to the Airborne Engineer Battalions. There they formed a closely knit family of
friends and comrades. They imprinted their forceful personalities onto these airborne engineer
units. They frequently came to think of these units as home.
The initial phase of organization and unit training for the 127th Airborne Engineer
conducted at Camp Mackall. It was there that the kinks were worked out of this novel type of organization.
Experienced engineer officers and noncommissioned officers tackled the new problems that airborne
capability imposed. Time at Camp Mackall was spent in training men to fill the ranks of the new airborne
(picture above right: Men of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion, Company B circa 1944.
(^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^) )
This was a twofold job, first to produce engineer soldiers, and also to produce
soldier engineers trained in the this revolutionary vertical deployment. This herculean task of organization
and training was accomplished in the relatively short period of time from activation in February 1943
to January of 1944, when the entire 11th Airborne Division moved to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to undergo
three months of intensive training in jungle warfare and advanced unit operations.
Through February, March, and the early part of April, 1944, training was conducted in the heart of
the Louisiana swamp country, orienting officers and troopers on the intricacies of jungle warfare. Road
and airfield construction training received by the battalion under these conditions, would prove to be of
particular value in the campaigns soon to be fought in the dense jungles of Pacific Islands. Some of
these later campaigns would be fought in jungles so thick that the Army commander himself carried a
jungle knife in order to clear a path through the brush.
On 18 April, 1944, an advance party left Camp Polk, Louisiana, for the port
of embarkation, where preparations were made for the arrival and processing of the main body of
the 11th Airborne. On 27 April, the main body arrived and was hurried through four days of
processing. They departed on the 30th of April for a twenty-six day cruise on the vast expanse of
the Pacific Ocean before debarking on the island of New Guinea.
Lt. Col. Douglas C. Davis now had his Airborne Engineers ready for their baptism of
fire. This following deals with the most colorful portion of the history of the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion,
describing the three campaigns of New Guinea, Leyte, and Luzon. They were written in blood and later
commemorated in the three green pennants on the battalion crest when it was adopted in 1952.
The battalion arrived at the island of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, in May 1944 after twenty six
days at sea. They immediately set about constructing a jump school facility and billets for the Division's
personnel. These projects were so successful that the division, under General Swing, opened the jump
school on June 16, 1944.
By July 25th, 290 new parachutists had been qualified. Tactical training was not
neglected during this period of construction, daily training emphasized tactical jumps and demolition work.
This training continued through the summer of 1944 until November, when the 11th Airborne Division was
sent to Leyte. There, they were given the mission of relieving the 7th Infantry Division, which had been sorely
pressed since the invasion of the island in the previous month. On arrival in Leyte, the Engineers
accomplished the impossible task of opening the main supply route in two days. Roads and bridges had
been impassable due to the daily torrent of rain that persisted throughout this period. Drying and storage sheds were constructed to protect the parachutes from the rain and humidity. The remaining effort was
concentrated on the construction of badly needed airstrips. On the afternoon of December 6, First Lieutenant Paul J.
Pergamo and his twenty-man platoon were patrolling the San Pablo airstrip. At 1830, two enemy bombers dropped
incendiaries on the strip and ignited the gasoline dump. Within ten minutes, two flights of enemy parachutists had
dropped on the east end of the strip from a height of 750 feet. Pergamo and his men immediately attacked the larger
force of enemy troops causing confusion, disrupting them, and forcing them into small groups. That night, Pergamo
had his men dug in on the high ground at the southwest corner of the strip. There his men withstood three enemy attacks
during the night.
At dawn, enemy dead were found within fifteen feet of the engineers' positions. Lieutenant Pergamo
was awarded the Silver Star for his courageous action. Next morning, when the enemy once more
attacked, the division commander directed Lt. Col. Davis to assume the dual mission of guarding the
division command post, and also clearing the enemy from the vicinity of the air strip.
Col. Davis quickly formed some service troops into a perimeter defense around the command
post. He then organized the line soldiers for an attack on Japanese positions around the air strip. There
were two plans made for the attack. The first plan called for the engineers to attack alone. The second
plan was for a coordinated attack with the engineers and the 674th Artillery Field Battalion, if it arrived in
The 127th Engineers consisted of five platoons assigned to two companies, A and C. Each
company had two platoons. Company C had one additional platoon from Company B. As the engineers were
moving into attack positions on the morning of December 7th, the 674th Field Artillery Battalion arrived.
Col. Davis directed the engineers, under the command of Major Eisenberger, to take the left sector, and
the artillery task force to move out on the right. When the engineer and artillery force moved forward, the
engineers encountered stiff resistance on the west. Major Eisenberger ordered A Company to move out
around the enemy flank. This action surprised the enemy, and forced them to withdraw. The engineers
were then able to advance some three hundred yards.
On the east flank the artillery met little resistance. They had been able to advance 700 yards.
At that time there was only messenger communication between the two groups. At about 9:45 some radios
arrived from a Signal Company. By radio communication it was learned that units were running short of
ammunition. So, at 10:15, the units were ordered to withdraw and secure the air strip.
A perimeter defense was formed around the air strip. From these positions the men fought off
several grenade charges throughout the night. While carrying ammunition to another position, two engineer
privates, Eristas (Houston) A. Jolley and Alien W. Osborne, noticed a large enemy flag flying from a tree.
The privates made several attempts to climb the tree to pull the flag down, but each attempt was
interrupted by enemy fire. The men then got an axe from a nearby truck and, working in a crouched
position and still under fire, chopped down the tree. This flag, so hard won, had been presented to the
Japanese attacking force on December 3, 1944. It was inscribed "To Tsuno Waru Shiral (00 of Unit),
Kalori Shimpei, (Unit), 'Exert the most for your Country' (Signed) Kyojito Mikiaga, Lt. General, Chief of
War Department, Personnel Bureau, Attendant to the War Minister at Imperial Group Headquarters."
The flag was presented to Major General Joe Swing, Commanding General of the 11th Airborne
Division. Later, during a visit to the Division Command Post, Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger,
Eighth Army Commander, showed interest in the flag. General Swing gave the flag to Eicheiberger and
he later presented it to the museum at West Point where it now hangs.
On December 8, the 127th Engineer Battalion was relieved from its defensive position by the
artillery battalion so that work could resume on vital construction efforts. In his book, "The Jungle Road
to Tokyo," General Eichelberger reported that over 300 enemy troops were killed in the vicinity of the air
strip on December 7, 1944.
( Source: Al Hankrader )
127th Airborne Engineer Battalion - Pictures
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