Lufkin: Texas Forestry Museum Transcript

The First World War posed a seemingly impossible problem for the United States: how could it fight - and win - a war… across an ocean? Docks had to be built; barracks, roads, and hospitals constructed – all on another continent! Who could build it all – and how?

Fortunately, the forests of East Texas were full of loggers and lumberjacks. Unlike the rest of the state, East Texas boasted an abundance of pine forests – and the local lumber industry was booming. Many African-Americans found work with the logging companies – and their forestry skills were about to help win the war. 

Lumber from East Texas was already being used to build the new military camps and airfields around the state. Cargo ships were built from East Texas wood to transport cotton and oil to the Allies in Europe.

But the Army made a bold move - creating the largest military regiment in the world – not for combat… but for construction: the 20th Engineers. They would build the infrastructure to win the war – and thousands of men from the forests of Mississippi, Arkansas, and East Texas filled its ranks. Most of the service units were African-American. And deep in the forests of France, they put their forestry skills to work.

It meant work; hard, monotonous, and unrelenting... I saw them hitched to wagons and pulling like horses because we had none...

And in spite of their treatment back home, where the Jim Crow laws amounted to government-sponsored racism, still these men served their country in war - in this back-breaking but vital mission.

After the war, Colonel J.A. Woodruff praised all men of the 20th Engineers:

Your part in winning the war has been as important as that of any other troops in the American forces… Time and again, in spite of difficulties such as lumbermen never contended with before, you have exceeded our expectations…  I’m glad to have been identified with such a body of American soldiers.