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A MARINE'S VIEW OF THE DOMINICAN INTERVENTION
Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Retired)
Director, United States Marine Corps Historical Center
(All rights reserved by BGEN Edwin H. Simmons, USMC (Ret.)
I did serve in the Dominican Republic during these troubled times so I will be speaking as such as a participant as well as a military historian. I ask you to note that the title of my remarks is "A Marine's View of the Dominican Intervention." It is just that, "A Marine's View . . . ." It most certainly is-not the 'Marine Corps' official view of the intervention.
The course or events leading up to the intervention of 1965 really began with the assassination of Generalissimo Rafael Loeonidas Trujillo Molina.
Some Dominican accounts link me to the assassination. It was said that I provided U.S.-made M-1 carbines to the assassins. The truth is that I was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the killing. If anything, I was sympathetic toward Trujillo whose virtues, in my opinion, outweighed his vices. On leaving the Dominican Republic I had been ordered to turn over certain equipment of the office of the Naval Attaché, including as I remember four carbines, to another agency. I later heard that they had been given to a dissident group. If so, the gift was purely symbolic because the dissidents had readily available San Cristobal submachine guns which were at least as good as our carbines.
As was said in my introduction, I went to the Dominican Republic in August 1959 as Naval Attaché. My rank was lieutenant colonel. My qualifications were a year of college Spanish and a burning curiosity as to this fellow Rafael Trujillo who was dictator. I had known numbers of senior Marine Corps officers who had served in the Dominican Republic during the U.S. occupation of 1916 to 1924. Now I would have a chance to see for myself and make my own judgments.
On 20 August 1960 the organization of American States voted to break diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic. Six days later the U.S. Embassy staff got ready to come home.
I am afraid I overstayed my welcome because by the 18th or 19th of September Radio Caribe and the local press were making remarks about my continued presence. The Foreign Minister called in the British Ambassador, who was representing our diplomatic affairs, and suggested tactfully that it was time for me to leave and not to come back. Accordingly, on 20 September I left for Puerto Rico where I set up my office in exile, so to speak.
The-past history of the Dominican Republic had been most stormy. Since gaining its independence from Haiti in 1844, it had alternated between dictatorships and other more permissive forms of government. It had 26 constitutions, all different. As I have mentioned, the country was occupied by the U.S. Marines from 1916 to 1924, and, actually, it was as a marine-trained Guardia officer that Trujillo had gotten his start.
After the Marines left, the country was run for six years by a weak but liberal government. Then in 1930, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo had taken over and he had been running the country ever since. The question I was being asked was, how long could Trujillo last? He was getting old. on 26 October 1960 he had his 69th birthday. There were rumors about his health. One week it would be cancer. The next week it would be his heart.
He was confronted with the active animosity of his Caribbean neighbors. He considered his principal enemies to be Betancourt of Venezuela, Castro of Cuba, and Munoz Marin of Puerto Rico. The OAS acts of censure had grown out of charges that Trujillo had aided and abetted an assassination attempt against Betancourt. I can assure you that those charges were well founded. To my personal knowledge two radio-controlled car bombs were tested on the Generalissimo's estancia at San Cristobal. He watched the tests himself and saw two cars blown up with his approval, a third bomb was sent to Venezuela.
That was not a nice thing to do. On the other hand, Betancourt had been involved in a Cuba-based invasion of the Dominican Republic the year before. This had been a small-scale air-sea operation. On 14 June 1959, two months before my arrival, a C-46 had landed 45 guerrillas at Constanza, a mountain resort in the western part of the country, and days later small craft had landed 145 more invaders on the north coast west of Puerto Plata.
The Dominican Armed Forces reacted slowly and clumsily. Nevertheless, by 24 June, ten days after the air landing, Trujillo was able to report that the invasion had been crushed. of a count of 224 invaders, 217 were dead and seven taken prisoner. The invaders had been a mixture of Cubans, Guatemalans, Dominican exiles, and two or three Americans.
Some were killed where they were encountered, hacked to pieces with machetes. others were taken as prisoners to the air base at San Isidro, eight miles northeast of Ciudad Trujillo, where they could be executed in more leisurely fashion. It was said that this was done by cadets from the military academy to put iron in their souls, rather like Stonewall Jackson having the cadets from VMI bury the dead after the battle of McDowell.
The Dominican Army was organized at that time on a geographic basis into six brigade areas. Each brigade had one to -three infantry regiments, and each regiment was roughly equivalent to an American World War II infantry battalion in terms of organization and weapons. The basic tactical and administrative unit was the company. Every town of any size had a well-built masonry barracks called a fortaleza housing one of these companies. To those of you who have worked with the organization of the South Vietnamese Army this must sound very, very familiar.
The Dominican Air Force had its major air base at San Isidro. There was also a northern base at Santiago and a southern base at Barahona. The Air Force had about 160 aircraft, 30 of which were obsolescent Vampire jet fighters. In addition to its air units, the Air Force had its own vest-pocket army consisting of an infantry regiment, an artillery group, and an armored battalion with the only tanks in the country.
The Dominican Navy had two English-built destroyers, two U.S.-built frigates, and five Canadian corvettes, all of World War II vintage. Facetiously, I could say that the primary mission of the Dominican Navy was to ensure that the presidential yachts, Angelita and Presidente Trujillo, were in good condition and ready to sail at all times.
The National Police had to be considered one of the Armed Forces. It was an effective, well-run, and respected organization, not to be confused with the secret or security police.
Certainly the most feared and hated organization in the Dominican Republic was the Servicio Inteligencia Militar or "SIM," the so-called military intelligence service. Fear of SIM pervaded the life of every Dominican whether he lived inside or outside the Dominican Republic. SIM claimed to be the most efficient intelligence service in the Caribbean. At least it had demonstrated its capability of carrying out assassinations in such diverse places as Havana, Caracas, Mexico City, and New York.
SIM agents watched all foreign embassies and were quick to use their pistols when they had reason. to suspect that visitors were about to seek political asylum. That summer of 1960 we called Avenida Maximo Gomez, the street on which several of the embassies were located, the "shooting gallery" because there were almost daily instances of persons trying to get into embassies and getting gunned down.
There was also a Foreign Legion of sorts, consisting of six light infantry battalions. Originally it was planned to recruit an anti-Communist legion amongst professionals in Europe. Instead of getting high-class freedom fighters what was recruited was low-class riff-raff of the Mediterranean. After a series of imprisonments, mutinies, and so forth, the ranks were filled up with Cuban émigrés and Dominican volunteers. Most of the Legion was kept up on the Haitian frontier.
All in all, there were some 25 to 30 thousand persons in the Dominican armed forces.
The era of Trujillo should have come to an end at about 10:15 the night of 30 May 1961. At that moment he was driving alone, except for his chauffeur, from Ciudad Trujillo to San Cristobal. The 70-year-old Generalissimo had a pressing engagement with his current mistress, but he didn't get to keep the date. He was ambushed in Chicago gangland style just outside the city.
His older son, General Rafael Trujillo, Jr., better known as Ramfis and best known here as the playmate of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Kim Novak, flew back from Paris in a chartered Air France jet and took over as the head of the Dominican Armed Forces. This made his the real head of the Dominican government. There was also a president--Joaquin Balaguer--who was useful for making speeches. otherwise no one paid much attention to him.
Ramfis revenged the death of his father in a most horrific way. There were hundreds of arrests, much torturing, and dozens of deaths, some of then by Ramfis' own hand. Despite this, Ramfis was able to charm a considerable element of the U.S. government including some of the in-place members of the U.S. consulate, who were all new since the assassination.
Indeed, for awhile it looked as though Ramfis intended to lead his country toward a more liberal government. At least he was willing to liquidate a significant part of the Trujillo financial expire (estimated at $800 million) in order to save the rest.
I was one of those who could not believe that the leopard had changed his spots. On the Ist of September 1961 1 was ordered to return to the Dominican Republic, ostensibly to see if there was a basis for the resumption of more normal military relationships. Nominally, I was on the staff of consul general, John Calvin Hill, Jr., a career Foreign Service officer who incidentally was a 1961 graduate of the National War College. Actually, I had been sent down to see if there was an element in the leadership of the armed forces which could be depended upon to act as a counterforce if Ramfis moved too far to the left or right of his announced course of direction.
While I got equivocal promises from a number of military leaders, the one person who made a clear commitment to act was Brigadier General Rafael Rodriguez Echavarria, a rated pilot and the commander of the northern air base at Barahona.
By the first of November I had picked up indications that Ramfis was about to pull out for Europe. He was going to turn over the Armed Forces to his good friend and drinking companion, 33-year-old Major General Fernando A. Sanchez, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
Two other players were two of Ramfis' uncles, Hector and Arismendi. Hector had been the president of the Republic until his resignation in 1960 and he had a fairly good reputation, but he seems to have wanted to revenge his brother's death. Arismendi was better known as "Petan" and he was a real piece of work. He looked, dressed, and acted like Mussolini. He commanded his own private army, "Los Cocuyos de la Cordillera," which is to say "The Fireflies of the Mountains." Earlier, under pressure from our government, the brothers had left the country in the yacht Presidente Trujillo for what was to be an extended vacation in Europe. Instead, they had stayed in the Caribbean, and on the 15th of November with Ramfis' consent they had returned to the Republic.
Another player I should mention is Maximo Lopez Molina, a confirmed Communist, who was permitted to come into the country to organize the Castro-oriented Movimiento Popular Dominicano--MPD.
The 18th of November was a Saturday and I had spent the afternoon at the Hotel El Embajador swimming pool. An American news journalist had introduced me to Juan Bosch, a longtime exile who was well known throughout Latin America as an intellectual and a writer, who had just been permitted to return to the Republic. My chief impressions of Juan Bosch were his crisp white hair and his very bright blue eyes. The three of us were having drinks together on the terrace of the pool when, at about five o'clock, I received a telephone call summoning me to the consulate general.
At the consulate Mr. Hill told me that the yacht Angelita had sailed with Ramfis on board and the announcement of his resignation and departure from the country was about to be made public. There were rumors of a general officers meeting at San Isidro. He asked that I go out to the air base to see if I could learn what was going on.
I telephoned the air base and made an appointment to see Fernando Sanchez, whom you will remember, we suspected of being Ramfis' replacement as head of the Armed Forces. That night was a long night and many things happened. Rodriguez Echavarria was amongst the generals gathered at the air base and, getting me aside for a brief moment, he asked that I keep talking until he could get back to Santiago. Without going into details, it is enough to say that Sanchez got the message that when morning came he would see a sizable demonstration of U.S. naval power in front of Ciudad Trujillo and that because of this he might want to modify his plans for the immediate future.
When morning came the Navy was as good as its promise. There in full view steamed the cruiser Little Rock and three destroyers. This was the beginning of Operation Sea Gull, a naval demonstration which was later extended to other Dominican ports. Vice Admiral John M. Taylor, commander of the Second Fleet, was in the Little Rock as Commander, Naval Task Force 123.
We had no decent radio communications with the Little Rock. I was dependent on MARS amateur radio that the Marine Security Guard had in the embassy. So we had to talk in the clear. Earlier I had been flown out to the Little Rock to meet Admiral Taylor. (I'm the first Marine Lieutenant Colonel ever to have commanded the Second Fleet.) We arranged on three code words; we arranged on "Sea Gull" for the overall operation. For the aerial demonstration, depending upon circumstances, we would use "Wave High," if they were not to penetrate the territorial waters of the Dominican Republic, or "Grass Cutter," if they were to come in closer. We would call for these over MARS. Thus if the message were intercepted, it would not be understood.
The rest of the task force was not yet in sight but it included an Amphibious Group with an embarked Marine expeditionary unit and a Striking and Covering Group that included the big carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Morning also brought bombing and strafing attacks mounted from Santiago Air Base by Rodriguez Echavarria against the army garrison at Fortaleza Ozama in the port area of Ciudad Trujillo and against the air base at San Isidro. These attacks, plus the very visible presence of the U.S. Navy, convinced Sanchez and the two wicked uncles, Hector and Petan, that their conspiracy had no future. They met with President Balaguer at the National Palace at 11 o'clock in the morning in the presence of Mr. Hill to negotiate a safe exit from the country.
Various and sundry other events took place that afternoon, including a most dramatic aerial demonstration flown just offshore by Marine Attack Squadron 224 flying Douglas A4-D Skyhawks. They came over at precisely three o'clock and extinguished any last lingering doubts as to whether the United States meant business. Now, we called for "Wave High" but with their enthusiasm they may have gotten a little closer. There were the front-page pictures all over the United States, and most particularly in the New York Times, showing the planes just behind the palm trees along the waterfront. And this caused consternation. Had these Marines invaded the territorial waters of the Dominican Republic? But, I was able to explain that this was distortion caused by telephoto lens.
A chartered Pan American plane was brought into the International Airport and at midnight took Sanchez, the uncles, and other assorted Trujillos off to gilded exile.
Monday, 20 November, was marked by the looting of Trujillo properties and the knocking over of the multitudinous Trujillo statues and monuments throughout the country.
On 22 November, Rodriguez Echavarria was promoted by Balaguer to major general and made Secretary of the Armed Forces. He gave me his brigadier general's insignia as a souvenir of the occasion.
But the holiday spirit did not long prevail. Both President Balaguer and General Rodriguez Echavarria had handled themselves very well in the crisis, but their popularity was brief and transitory. Balaguer was contaminated in the public mind because of his long association with the Trujillo regime. Echavarria was suspected of having ambitions of becoming a military dictator. There is a great deal of personalissimo in all of these things. something we don't always understand when we deal with these things. These are not necessarily one government entity and another government entity; but a lot of personalissimo. I had relationships with Rodriguez Echavarria during this period that were as close as relationships could be.
There were three important political parties in opposition to the Balaguer government. The Union Civica Nacional (UCN) or National Civic ' Union was the largest. UCN was headed by Dr. Viriato Fiallo and included most of the so-called "best people" of the Republic. The Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD) or Dominican Revolutionary Party was the next strongest. Its leader was Juan Bosch. The Catorce do Junio (14th of June) was politically the farthest to the left of the three parties. It took its name from the date of the abortive anti-Trujillo invasion -- 14 June 1959. It was not necessarily Communist, but it was anti-U.S. and pro-Castro.
The one thing that the various parties had in common was their opposition to Balaguer. Political negotiations broke down and on 28 November there was a general strike which lasted 12 days. Negotiations then resumed. It was generally agreed that there would be some sort of junta to act as a caretaker government until free and open elections could be held.
Meanwhile the temper of the crowds in the street grew more ugly, aggravated by the strike and manipulated by Castro-Communist elements operating under the banner of Catorce de Junio. The same persons who had cheered the Navy show of force now denounced the continued offshore presence of the few American destroyers as Yankee imperialism and intervention. On the 13th of December the visa office of the U.S. Consulate was sacked by a mob and forced to close.
On 17 December, Balaguer announced agreement on the creation of a seven-man Council of State. Membership came almost entirely from Union-Civica Nacional as both the PRD and Catorce de Junio chose to stay out of the government. Two days later the last remaining U.S. destroyer sailed away and Operation sea Gull came to a close. On 1 January 1961, the Council of State was sworn in with Balaguer continuing as president. Rafael F. Bonelly of the UCN was vice president and was to take over as president once the OAS sanctions were lifted. The OAS quickly met and on 4 January voted to resume diplomatic relations and to lift sanctions. I left the Republic by 5 January.
I wish I could say that the installation of the Consejo de Estado brought things to a happy ending, but such was not the case. The Council was scarcely in office before it demanded the immediate resignation of Balaguer and censured Echavarria. Echavarria in turn demanded that the UCN stop inciting the people against him. Instead, the UCN scheduled a mass meeting in Parque Independencia, the Lafayette Square of the Dominican Republic, on 16 January. Echavarria moved tanks and infantry into the square to break up the meeting. In the ensuing melee, four civilians were killed and 19 or more wounded. As an aftermath, Balaguer resigned and Echavarria substituted his own military-civilian junta for the Council of State. Without U.S. support, Echavarria's position was untenable and he knew it. He did not resist when two days later a group of his own Air Force officers arrested him and restored the Council of State. Echavarria was allowed to go to Puerto Rico, and then, with a little help from me, to New York City where he went into the dress-making business.
Balaguer, after resigning on 18 January, took refuge in the residence of the papal nuncio and was given safe conduct to Puerto Rico. Bonelly had become president but it was soon apparent that Donald Reid Cabral, an American-educated car dealer, was the real power in the council. U.S. economic aid was a disappointment to the provisional government and public disorders, street riots, and sabotage marked the year. General elections were held on 20 December and to no one's surprise Juan Bosch of the PRD overwhelmingly defeated Viriato Fiallo of the UCN.
As a pledge of U.S. support, Vice President Lyndon Johnson was in attendance at Bosch's inauguration on 27 February. Bosch was inept as a president as you have heard. In addition to his domestic problems there was a near-war with neighboring Haiti. on 25 September 1963, he was deposed in a coup headed by Brigadier General Elias Wessin y Wessin and supported by conservative elements. To give the new government a civilian facade, a civil triumvirate was formed. Bosch was briefly imprisoned and then deported on board the Dominican frigate Mella.
Bosch's overthrow caused consternation in Washington. As a small part of the action, I was sent to New York to talk with Rodriguez Echavarria and then, on the first of November, down to the Dominican Republic to talk to the military. At the request of the Dominican generals, I met with two of the three members of the triumvirate and gave them the terms under which the U.S. would recognize their government, chiefly that free elections would be quickly held.
In December 1963, President Johnson recognized the military-imposed government with the understanding that elections would be held in 1965.
The members of the triumvirate resigned in rapid succession and amongst the new members Donald Reid Cabral emerged as the head of the government. From the right, Reid Cabral was increasingly opposed by conservative elements including senior officers of the armed forces, the urban upper classes, and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. On the left, Bosch's PRD still has a strong following amongst the lover classes and certain elements of the armed forces. By early in 1965, intelligence was reporting that at least two separate groups were planning coups.
On 23 April 1965, Ambassador William Taplett Bennett, Jr., left for Georgia to visit his mother en route to Washington where he was to brief the State Department on the Dominican situation. Eleven of the 13 officers of the U.S. Military Assistance Group were in Panama for a regional MAAG conference.
On Saturday, 24 April 1965, a faction in the Dominican Army revolted, seeking to re-install Juan Bosch, who was waiting in Puerto Rico. The rebellious troops passed out thousands of guns to the crowds in the street.
The police, remaining loyal to Reid Cabral, were able to clear the streets by late afternoon and impose a curfew. In addition to the police Reid Cabral had perhaps 500 troops in the city he could depend upon. About 1,200 soldiers, mainly from the 16th of August camp outside the city, were supporting the "rebellion." Wessin y Wessin, who controlled the Air Force's pocket army (which is another word for the Armed Forces Training Center) of infantry, armor, and artillery, numbering about 1,750, at San Isidro, turned down Reid's request for help. The bulk of the Dominican Army, some 18,300 officers and men, was not really involved.
Reid Cabral asked the then-U.S. Naval Attaché, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Heywood, who had been in the eastern part of the country on a shooting trip with Brigadier General Antonio lmbert Barreras, one of the two surviving Trujillo assassins, if the United States would intervene.
Late that day, 24 April, word reached the Ready Amphibious Task Group, anchored south of Puerto Rico's Vieques Island with the 6th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, that a communist-inspired coup was underway in Santo Domingo. Orders were to-take station off the southern coast of the troubled republic, hull-down, but prepared to move in to evacuate up to 1,200 U.S. citizens.
By 0200, Sunday, 25 April, the task group was off Haina, the sugar port and small naval base just west of Santo Domingo city. The 6th MEU included Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/6 and Medium Helicopter Squadron 264. In all, the 6th MEU had 1,702 Marines. Fixed-wing support would be based in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.
By this time (early -morning hours, 25 April) the so-called "rebels" had gained substantial control of downtown Santo Domingo. I think it is romantic to call them "rebels." The word should be "rabble"--"r-a-b-b-l-e." This was a street mob, comparable to Noriega's Dignity Battalions and the looters of Panama City. The loyalists had been pushed out of the National Palace and Donald Reid Cabral had quit as president. As a kind of last official act, he had made Wessin y Wessin the chief of the armed forces and thus the de facto head of the government. The estimated number of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to be evacuated had grown to three thousand.
Rumors were rife that Juan Bosch was about to return. On that same, Sunday, the Dominican Air Force strafed the rebellious Army camps around Santo Domingo and with Dominican Navy help (a few shells tossed into the city) attacked the National Palace.
On Monday, 26 April, the Ready Group was 30 miles off the Dominican coast, out of sight. At this point Wessin y Wessin asked for U.S. intervention. Washington, not wanting to seem to be supporting an unpopular regime, instructed the Embassy to stay neutral, obtain a ceasefire, and begin evacuating U.S. citizens.
At daylight on the 27th, a command group from the 6th MEU made a helicopter reconnaissance of the Haina port area. During the morning a message reached the Boxer that Ambassador Bennett was arriving by jet at the Punta Caucedo International Airport outside Santa Domingo. Colonel George Daughtry, commander of the 6th MEU, and Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Kleppsattel, CO of the embarked helicopter squadron, vent to the airport by helicopter and found the operations tower unmanned. Kleppsattel took over the transmitter and talked the jet-in. Ambassador Bennett-was indeed on board. He was whisked by helicopter to the Boxer. Here he met with Commodore James A. Dare, commander of the Caribbean Ready Group, and was briefed on the situation ashore and impending evacuation operations before being taken by helicopter to his Embassy. By noon orders were received from Commander in Chief, Atlantic (CINCLANT) to begin evacuation operations with San Juan, Puerto Rico, designated as a safe haven.
Evacuation began at 1300, 27 April. Persons wishing to be evacuated had gathered at the Hotel Ambassador and were to be moved by truck and bus to Haina. While they were waiting a band of hooligans briefly terrorized then by firing weapons over their heads. A polo field, once used by the Trujillos and which I had scouted years before, offered an elegant helicopter landing zone. 1,712 persons were taken on board Navy ships that first day.
When Ambassador Bennett got back to his Embassy in downtown Santo Domingo on Tuesday, 27 April, he found it receiving sporadic sniper fire. Security of the Embassy was in the hands of an eight-man marine security guard and 36 Dominican National Policemen.
That same day, when efforts to negotiate a ceasefire failed, Nessin y Wessin sent his troops into the city behind a rocket and strafing attack by the Dominican Air Force. A confused battle raged in the streets. Hundreds were reported killed and wounded. it was widely believed that Bosch's PRD had lost control of the street gangs to the Castro-oriented MPD. Ambassador Bennett asked for a show of force.
Next morning, Wednesday, 28 April, with the streets of Santo Domingo again filled with demonstrators, the National Police announced they no longer could guarantee the security of either the evacuation site or the Embassy. Accordingly, a platoon of Marines-was put in by helicopters at both places.
In the absence of a legitimate government and at the urging of the U.S. Embassy, Wessin y Wessin had announced the formation of a military junta with Colonel Pedro Benoit as president. One of Benoit's first actions was to ask the Embassy to land 1,200 Marines to "help restore peace in this country." Late that afternoon, 28 April, Bennett asked Washington to land the Marines to ensure the safety of the evacuees and to reinforce the Marine guard at the Embassy, "something short of what Benoit had requested."
At 6 p.m. President Johnson authorized the landing of 500 Marines. Within two hours, two rifle companies and the battalion headquarters, a total of 536 Marines, had arrived at the Embajador landing zone. That evening 684 more civilians were evacuated from the hotel and on the following day some 516 more were whisked away.
CINCLANT'S Joint Task Force (JTF) 122 had been established for just such contingencies. CINCLANT activated JTF-122 on 28 April under command of Vice Admiral Kleber S. Masterson. Masterson and his deputy, Marine Major General Rathvon M. Tompkins, flew to Ramey Air Force Base early on the 29th. Here they boarded the destroyer Leahy for a fast trip to the Boxer where Admiral Masterson broke out his flag. However, very little authority was delegated to him. The decision-making process was firmly concentrated in the White House and the State Department. The Chairman of the JCS was the only uniformed person in the President's immediate decision-making group. The primary source of information was Ambassador Bennett.
Early in the afternoon, Thursday, 29 April, the U.S. Embassy came under heavy small-arms fire. Colonel Daughtry and Captain Dare went to the Embassy to confer with Ambassador Bennett. From Washington came word that the organization of American States was considering an International Safety Zone. The JCS ordered the rest of the marines to land at Haina at 5:50 p.m. By nightfall all of BIT 3/6 -- some 1,500 Marines -- was ashore.
The 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne, began landing in C-130s at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, 30 April. The control tower there was unmanned after dark and a Navy aviator and two Marine officers rushed there by helicopter to turn on the lights and talk down the planes.
The operation plan for 30 April called for the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, to move east from the polo field to a north-south line just beyond tfie U.S. Embassy so as to establish the International Safety Zone agreed to by the OAS. The 3d Brigade, 82d Airborne, was to come in from San Isidro as far as the vital Duarte Bridge over the Rio Ozama. The loyalists, relieved at the bridge, were to go forward and patrol the center of the city. All parts of the plan worked except the last. Instead of going forward, the loyalists fell back to San Isidro, where a three-cornered negotiation for a cease-fire was taking place.
Next morning, I May, the Marines and Airborne pushed forward their patrols and linked up in the center of the city shortly before noon. Then they got orders from the negotiators to withdraw to their original positions.
Lieutenant General Bruce Palmer, USA, arrived at San Isidro the morning of I May concurrently with the 2d Brigade, 82d Airborne and took over command of all U.S. ground forces. Other arrivals that day at San Isidro were the air-lifted BLT 1/6 and Marine Brigadier General John H. Bouker as Commanding General, 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. A five-man peace commission from the OAS also arrived.
The Marines and Airborne were now permitted to link up once again, which they did shortly before midnight on 3 May. Later on a third BIT, 1/8, arrived at San Isidro by air, and BIT 1/2 arrived offshore on board the LPH Okinawa to serve as floating reserve.
On 6 May, after bitter debate, the OAS voted to create an Inter-American Peace Force. On 7 May, Brigadier General Tony Imbert, whom we met before, took over as head of the San Isidro group. He energized the languid loyalist effort and began the cleanup of the remaining pockets of disorder in the old part of the city.
On 25 May the first contingent of Brazilians arrived. On 26 May the Marines began to withdrawn. Last elements had gone by 6 June and the Dominican intervention, as far as the Marines were concerned, was over. With three battalion landing teams ashore and one afloat, Marine strength had peaked at about 8,000. Marine casualties had been nine killed and 30 wounded, about one-third of the total American casualties.
There seems to be no exact final count of the number of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals evacuated. Major Greenberg states that 5,000 persons were evacuated by mid-September, half of whom were Americans. Perhaps so, but I think this figure is high. many Dominicans claim dual citizenship by virtue of Puerto Rican family ties and for some at least the evacuation was a U.S.-paid vacation.
I aim one of those who would say that the threat of a communist takeover was never as great as assumed by President Johnson and that the amount of U.S. force sent ashore went far beyond that required. I also believe that the Dominican situation was exploited as a laboratory opportunity for testing the respective strategic mobility systems of Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces and the Army-Air Force airborne forces. There was a great deal of hyperbole and theater in the whole affair, both militarily and politically.
Hostilities never really spread beyond downtown Santo Domingo. The countryside remained quiet. The Dominican Army, as such, stayed out of the struggle. I have not yet seen a believable estimate of the total number of Dominican belligerents nor Dominican casualties. Major Greenberg accepts the figure of 3, 000 Dominicans killed; I find this incredible. I think the total would be closer to 300.
General David M. Shoup, Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1960 through 1964, later wrote, that "only a fraction of the force was needed or justified. A small 1935-model Marine landing force could probably have handled the situation."
Both before and after Trujillo's assassination in May 1961, ship's visits and a showing of the flag had helped keep a highly inflammable situation from bursting into a conflagration. In November 1961, when civil war did threaten, an adroit amphibious demonstration dampened it down. Similar actions were effective in 1963, but in April 1965 the situation got out of hand.
24 February 2003