... And Santo Domingo

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By BGen Hayne D. Bolden, USMC (Ret.) - Originally Published November 1972

My first cross-country flight in Santo Domingo was a good initiation into the country, its flying possibilities and limitations. I left the field at Consuelo with lieutenant Rovegno, one of the pilots we were relieving, who was to show me several of the landing fields in the Eastern District and then to take mail to Santo Domingo City.

After looking over the fields in the east, we headed west to Monte Plata, the last of the fields of that section. Nearly every town garrisoned by a Marine Detachment had a landing field. When we reached Monte Plata and were ready to turn south to the Capitol, a big storm was coming inland from the sea and it looked pretty black behind us. We headed north over the mountains and after flying twenty-five minutes landed at a town named San Francisco de Macoris, which is in about the middle of the northern valley. We were given dinner by the Commanding Officer, and after refilling our gas tanks, took off and headed back to recross the mountains and make Santo Domingo City.

We had been under way about twenty minutes when the motor began to miss. Rovegno nosed her down and landed in a savanna. We had hardly landed when many natives came toward us from all directions out of the forests around the edge of the savanna. I remembered the story of lieutenant MacFayden's sergeant-observer in Haiti, whom the Cacos killed and; it was reported, ate. I had a very vivid picture of being cooked in some cannibal's pot within an hour! You see this country looked pretty wild to me and this was my first cross-country hop down there. I was scared and admit it. Rovegno didn't like the prospects very much himself, so he gave her the gun, but to add to my suspense, she must have run a mile before taking off. The grass was tall, the ship heavy with the extra gas tanks all full, and the motor loggy. She finally got off, up to fifty feet; he banked her over to turn when she cut out cold. He tried to kick her back into the wind. She stalled and went in on her nose and wheels. I saw the ground coming up at me awfully fast as she was going over on her back, so I pulled my head into the cockpit. As we stopped I unbuckled my belt and fell out onto my hands. Hardly had I regained my feet when I heard "Rove" hollering amongst the wreckage in the front cockpit, "Get out, get out quick, she's going to burn! She's going to burn!" I said, "Get out yourself, I'm already out watching you trying to get out." When he got out he looked over the wreck and swore.

There we were, over a hundred miles from our field, in the deep interior of Santo Domingo, natives coming up from all around, some armed with pearl-handled Smith and Wessons, all with fighting machetes. Some of those "nombres" must not have seen each other for years, though they lived on opposite sides of the savanna. They embraced each other, Dominican bearhug fashion, and "hablaed" and habla-ed." I thought things looked pretty bad for us. Rovegno had a service pistol and I had only a Very's pistol. I reckon it looked very formidable to them though, with its huge barrel.

But the natives turned out to be very friendly, which lifted the great weight from my mind of the possibility of being eaten by one of those wild birds. Finally, after much talking they gave us horses and directed us to San Francisco de Macoris, thirty miles away, which we reached at eleven-thirty that night, having ridden through the rain all the way but twelve miles. The last twelve we went by train which branched off of the main La Vega-Sanchez road at La Jina.

Next morning we set out on a handcar for La Jina at four o'clock and then rode the horses back out. We spent two days going back and forth from Macoris to the plane, disassembling it, which was quite a job with only the aid of a pair of pliers, a monkey-wrench and a screw-driver. The third day we started the natives carrying the plane to La Jina, eighteen miles away. We started the motor off first on the backs of sixteen hombres. They rigged up a number of poles crossing each other, with the motor in the middle. It surely was a funny sight to look about the savanna and see that plane under way again. You could see a wing traveling along, the men who were carrying it through the deep foilage not being visible, then in another direction a flipper, a horizontal stabilizer, etc. Finally the fuselage brought up the rear, riding along on the backs of thirty men.

The going was difficult indeed. At one place we had to cross a river on a Dominican ferry. The banks were steep, muddy and slippery, and at the top were some trees through which the fuselage had to be worked. Finally we came to a Dominican country store, the stock of which consisted mainly of rum. The Dominicans would go no further. They raised their price fifty cents for the day and said that they wanted bread and rum. All we had to buy the rum and pay the men with were chits (I.O.U.'s). With these we got them bread and rum. After this they went along with much more pep. It was good they did for it was now raining heavily and our road was nearly knee-deep in mud. This, with mosquitoes, darkness, and the pleasure and excitement of going back every few steps to recover a rubber boot that had decided to remain behind in the mud, made La Jina, the railroad junction, seem like a haven of rest when we reached it at ten-thirty p.m.

Our special train that we had arranged for to take us to Sanchez on the coast, was waiting for us. We loaded the plane on the two flat cars, fuselage and control surfaces on the first, motor and wings on the second. Rovegno and I, after bidding our forty-odd spicks, adios, and promising them their dinero (money) shortly, boarded our special train. We got in the engine cab with the engineer, who was some Casey Jones, for now and then he got as many as fifteen miles out of that special. I crawled into the front cockpit of the fuselage, pulling one of the aluminum side-pans over me to try to keep out the rain. Then, with much groaning, jerking and hissing, we got under way. The compass in the front seat read due east, the clock showed eleven. The rain pattered continuously on my aluminum roof. I was already wet to the skin, but managed to doze off a little. Suddenly I was awakened by an especially rough place in the track, and looked back to see how flat-car number two was faring, but imagine my surprise when by the light from the engine's fire-box I saw that number two had left us. I shouted to Rove to stop the train. Casey Jones a la Dominican brought her up with a jerk. I listened; yes, I could here her coming down the tracks, clickety clack, clickety clack! I hollered to Rovegno, "Shoot her the kerosene; if that flat-car hits us, fini!" The engineer opened up and we got under way, went half a mile. The noise ceased, no flat-car in sight, so we backed up a quarter of a mile and found it sitting quietly on the tracks. We coupled up and after going about thirty miles more arrived at Sanchez, a seaport town on Samana Bay, and the terminal of the road, at five in the morning. That afternoon we loaded the wreck on the SS Huron and shoved off for San Pedro de Macoris. We arrived at the home field the next day.