(From Peter Van Atta, son of the first Company Commander of the 150th)
Below is a letter to the leaders in the 150th which was prepared by my father shortly before he moved up to the First Army Engineer Section.

Col. Reagan (the second Company Commander)  gave him a copy of a carbon he had saved when they visited 14 years ago.
I retyped it following the original spelling and punctuation and format.

It is interesting to read from the perspective of what followed.  The battalion had been doing mostly road maintenance to that point and the anticipation shows for more 'spectacular' missions to come.  Certainly the unit history shown in the log and pictures is evidence of the much harder missions that did come to pass.

A.P.O. 230

20 July 1944

Subject: Comments on Leadership

To : All Commissioned and Non-Commissioned Officers

We have completed two weeks of operations in the combat zone. The missions assigned to all companies have been carried out in a most commendable manner and our efficiency will steadily increase as we gain experience and stamina. This stamina is not purely physical, a measure of strength of the muscles of the man with the shovel or the thickness of callouses on the hands swinging the sledge, but also a measure of your ability of the unit leader to maintain a soldierly attitude toward your duty, your men, and your leaders. This attitude is reflected in the spirit with which your unit works.

Stamina of the man is a natural result of supervised physical effort, together with his belief in his purpose and his leaders. Both the maintenance of this physical condition and the development of the cooperative mental attitude must be supervised by you. Food, cleanliness, and rest are chief considerations. The platoon leader who allows his platoon to play baseball rather than sleep following a night mission is neglecting his duty. Only a careless squad leader will tolerate unclean, unshaven men in his squad.

Of more importance than the physical consideration is the observance of those factors contributing to morale. Morale may be undermined by the careless leader who criticizes his superiors. This flagrant display of his lack of respect for higher authority is transmitted to his unit, in turn weakening his command over them. To refrain from criticizing, even when criticism is justified, shows superior discipline and admirable loyalty. If the road is not being built the way you would do it, make a tactful suggestion to your immediate superior, but don't discuss your criticism with your men. Absolute support of all established policies is essential if willing effort is to be achieved. Not blind tenacity to the letter of an order, but thoughtful accomplishment of the spirit of the order. The American soldier is a thinking soldier - there is room for initiative in any mission.

You have been promoted to your rank because you can "get things done". You accomplish your mission by a combination of superior knowledge and ability to lead others. One without the other is not enough. A technician may have no unit command responsibility but is nevertheless con-sidered a non-commissioned officer and must accordingly conduct himself in an exemplary manner. As a mark of respect, all non-commissioned officers are entitled to be addressed as "Sergeant" or "Corporal". To refer to "Sergeant Jones" as "Jones" lowers his prestige and weakens the chain of command.

The examples of attention to duty, loyalty, courtesy and personal appearance set by all leaders will be followed by all men. A high standard of discipline will not only benefit our effort now, but will also prepare all men for better citizenship.

Be explicit in your instructions and exacting in your requirements! Profanity is the mark if a limited vocabulary. Any one profane word can be substituted for dozens of accurate words. Officers and non-commissioned officers are presumed to have mentalities capable of expressing ideas, and are expected to use their vocabulary. It is dangerous to waste war-time in inaccurate instructions made lengthy by non-essential profanity.

Headquarters and Service Company and the staff sections exist for only one reason: to facilitate the work of the lettered companies. The personnel of these sections coordinate, supply, and pay the battalion. Theirs is a common mission. It is essential that they work in closest harmony with one another. All are mutually supporting. Friction between staff sections and companies can and will be eliminated by close, tactful association between you of the staff and you of the line. Gain understanding of one anothers problems.

Our principle mission is road maintenance. Engineer Field Manual 5-10 "Communication Construction and Utilities" sums up Section V on road construction with this statement: "Ingenuity, energy, and determination are essential to the construction and maintenance of military roads." Having worked two weeks on French roads you well realize the truth of this statement. You not only provide the "ingenuity", by your knowledge and experience, but must also maintain the "energy" and "determination" by your enthusiasm for the part you play. The roads which we now maintain are carrying about 20,000 tons of supplies each day! Although many engineer missions are more spectac-ular, none are more essential. Nine out of ten engineer soldiers working in this theater today are maintaining a road! All other missions are in-cidental to forward movement. The speed with which this war terminates de-pends as much on your ability to keep the supplies moving forward as upon the infantrymans ability to gain ground!

Attention to the above principles by many leaders in this battalion has made it a strong team, and observance by all will make it an unbeatable team!

Lt. Col., C.E.

Email: Click here for email
Back ButtonBack to papers index page