On 10 July 2007 the United States Army's oldest topographic battalion, the 29th Engineer Battalion (Topographic), disappeared forever. Many alumni of the 29th traveled from the Mainland to Hawaii to attend the ceremonies and were royally greeted and treated. This brief history of the 29th was compiled by the staff of the 29th for the brochure distributed at the ceremonies. (All information on this page provided courtesy of Mr. George A. Jacob)
"PRAEVALEMUS" WE SUCCEED
The blue shield with diagonally crossed bars comes from the coat-of-arms of the city of Langres where the old 29th Engineers had its Headquarters during World War I. The red and white of the crossbars are the branch colors of the Corps of Engineers. The fleur-de-lis (French national emblem) above center signifies the service in France, and the four stars below center signify the four major engagements in which the old 29th Engineers took part: Aisne-Marne defensive; defense of Toul sector; St. Mihiel offensive; and Meuse-Argonne offensive. The castle and crescent in the white corner, top left, are taken from the insignia of the 5th Engineers, which furnished the cadre for the new topographical battalion reactivated in 1921 as the 17th Engineers. This unit was rechristened in 1923 as the new 29th Engineers. The castle commemorates the 5th Engineers participation in the Battle of Santiago, Cuba. The crescent commemorates the 17th Engineers participation in the Moro rebellion in the Philippines.
On 10 July 2007, at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, in a colorful and emotional ceremony, the army’s oldest and premier topographic unit was deactivated and its functions absorbed by the 65th Engineer Battalion thus bringing to an end almost 90 years of excellent topographic service to the nation and the Army.
The lineage of the 29th Engineer Battalion can be traced to a small group of Engineers in the advanced guard of General John Pershing's Allied Expeditionary Force. They were destined to become Company H, 29th Engineer Regiment. The 29th Engineer Regiment was officially activated on 20 October 1917 at Camp Devins, Massachusetts, making them the oldest topographic unit in the Army. The unit sailed for Europe within a few days of its activation. The regiment performed survey and map reproduction throughout the European Theatre. The headquarters and base plant were located in Langres, while mobile units were sent to various sectors of the American front.
Additionally, the regiment took an active part in the defense of the Toul sector and the Meuse-Argonne offensive. For its efforts in WWI, the regiment earned four Battle Stars, a WWI streamer, and was personally cited by General Pershing. The Battalion's crest and motto, "Praevalemus" (We Succeed), date from this period.
In the demobilization period after WWI the 29th was disbanded, re-emerging in 1923 as the 29th Engineer Battalion. Part of the unit remained in Washington, D.C, as part of the U.S. Army’s Map Reproduction Printing Plant. In 1929 a new voluntary organization named U.S. Army Engineer Battalion in Nicaragua (USEBIN), grew out of the 29th and deployed to survey an internationally proposed canal route through the unmapped areas of Nicaragua. In May 1931, President Herbert Hoover awarded the unit with a personal letter of appreciation. In July 1931, the entire unit reformed at Fort Schuyler, New York, where it conducted mapping of Manhattan Island prior to moving to the West Coast in 1934.
While on the West Coast the 29th Engineer Battalion conducted the extensive original mapping of the Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound areas of Washington State. They assisted in surveying the route for the ALCAN Highway in Alaska and Canada, in addition to training U.S. and foreign military and civilian personnel.
On 1 September 1939 in Portland, Oregon at a military formation, every second man answered, “Here” and stepped forward, removed his 29th Engineer insignia and became the cadre for the 30th Engineer Topographic Battalion. Shortly thereafter, similar ceremonies created the 64th Engineer Topographic Battalion, followed by a host of other topographic units.
During WWII, the Battalion supported operations in the Aleutians, Pacific, and European Theatres. Their greatest completed wartime mission was the mapping of the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska. After an over water movement to the Philippines in 1945, the 29th participated in the planning phases of Operation Coronet, Olympic, and Blacklist, which involved the occupation of Japan and Korea. For its efforts during the war, the Battalion earned the Pacific Campaign Streamer.
After the end of WWII in 1945, the Battalion moved to the Philippines where they began the vast Post- Hostilities Mapping Project and training of the future Philippine Mapping Agency. The mission of the 29th included first, second, and third order geodetic surveys and photogrammetric control surveys; collection of maps produced by foreign mapping agencies; and collection of geodetic data and engineer intelligence data for the Army Map service. Their efforts were so successful that the target date of 1960 was lowered to 1954, and the project was completed on schedule. After nine years of surveying and mapping, the Battalion left the Philippines.
In 1954 the Battalion assumed responsibility for Korea and Okinawa and moved to Tokyo, Japan where it became known as the ARMY MAP SERVICE, FAR EAST. There it absorbed the 64th Engineer Battalion and continued its mission of providing topographic support to U.S. and Allied forces in the Pacific Theatre, particularly to combat commands in Southeast Asia. In May 1966, the unit (less its survey element) moved to Ford Island, Hawaii and was the primary map production unit for U.S. Forces in Vietnam. In January 1969, the unit was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation by the CINC, U.S. Army Pacific. A second Meritorious Unit Commendation was awarded in 1972.
The 29th Engineer Battalion colors were retired in 1972, but its soldiers continued to provide topographic support in the Pacific Theatre as the 652nd Engineer Battalion. In 1977, the 652nd moved to Fort Shafter, Hawaii. The 29th Engineer Battalion was reactivated at Fort Shafter in 1980, restoring its colors to their rightful place in the Pacific.
In May of 1994, the 7th Engineer Detachment (Heavy Dive) joined the Battalion as the US Army Pacific's only Army dive asset supporting Joint missions throughout PACOM. The 545th Transportation Company, with its two Logistics Support Vessels and the High Speed Vessel "Joint Venture" added to the Battalion's unique capabilities in June of 2004. In October of 2005, the 82nd Engineer Company (Engineer Support Company) joined the Battalion from Korea.
The 29th Engineer Battalion (Topographic) last mission was as the Pacific Command's primary topographic asset and as US Army Pacific's sole Army dive and surface watercraft support. The Battalion provided unique and specialized technical support to the Joint and Multi-National operations and commands throughout the Pacific.
At the inactivation ceremony, former members of the 29th gathered for a farewell reunion dinner on 8 July, followed by a tour of Pearl Harbor on the 9th of July and then the inactivation ceremony on the 10th of July. Major Frank Pfersch (Retired) the oldest member of the 29th was privileged to assist in casing the 29th’s colors. Major Pfersch joined the 29th in Washington State in 1936.
Following WW II, many members of the 29th became members of the Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. and served many years prior to their retirement.
Photo of the casing of the battalion colors at Fort Shafter on July 10, 2007.
The gentlemen in white shirt is MAJ Frank Pfersch of Portland, Oregon.
George A. Jacob as a sergeant in the 29th Topo Bn in the Philippines in 1949.
Glenn Weldon as First Sergeant with the
29th Topo Bn in the Philippines in 1945.