May 1932

Down in the Dominican Republic

Volume 17, Issue 1
Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina (1891-1961) ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961.

While the American Marines came out of the Dominican Republic in 1924 they are still interested in that country.

Some of the Marines stationed in Haiti, particularly the aviators, visit the sister Island-Republic, from time to time. Brigadier-General George Richards visited Santo Domingo in the fall of 1926; the Flagship Seattle was at Santo Domingo City February 14-16, 1927 and Colonel James C. Breckinridge, Fleet Marine Officer, reported that the Dominicans received them very hospitably; the Dawes Commission was down there in 1929 and Colonel Harold C. Reisinger dropped in on the Dominicans in the same year.

The Revolution of 1930 was settled without the presence of Marines and brought forward General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo who had been an officer of the Policia Nacional under the Marines. The Policia, after the withdrawal of the Marines, had been transformed into the Ejercito Nacional with General Trujillo at its head. He was elected President on May 16, 1930.

June of 1930 again found some Marines in the Republic, on the occasion of the visit of the U. S. S. Sacramento which after visiting Sanchez on Samana Bay dropped anchor at Santo Domingo City on June 24. First Lieutenant Shelton C. Zern commanded the Marines of the Sacramento. The Sacramento's Medical Officer was Lieutenant-Commander James W. Ellis, who had served with the Policia Nacional.

The Sacramento fired a national salute at 8:52 a. m. on June 24, with the Dominican Republican Ensign at the Main. At 8:57 a. m. a shore battery returned the salute, gun for gun, with the United States flag displayed. The ship moored at the Municipal Wharf at 9:18 a. m. The American Vice-Consul called followed by the Consul. They left together. Commander William W. Smith, the commanding officer, left ship to call on Charge d'Affaires John M. Cabot. Mr. Cabot promptly returned the call.

The following day Commander Smith called on President Rafael Estrella Urena. The President's Aide returned the compliment.

President-Elect Rafael Leonidas Trujillo gave a luncheon party at Hotel Fausto, in honor of the visiting Americans. General Trujillo insisted that Commander Smith sit at the head of the table while he, himself, sat on his left. On his left were Senor Vargas, Lieutenant Bennie Decker, Lieutenant Zern of the Marines, C. P. C. Eichel, a newspaper man, and Major Dominiche. On the right side of the table were Charge d'Affaires Cabot, Colonel Fiallo, Lieutenant Commander Ellis, Senor Galvan, Lieutenant Hanns and the General's Aide. General Trujillo said that he had a very warm spot in his heart for the Marines and the American people. Senor Galvan interpreted for him.

That evening Commander Smith and his officers gave a dinner on the forecastle of the Sacramento in honor of President-Elect Trujillo, Ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs and others.

The baseball team of the Sacramento dropped a game to an All-Dominican Team. The Sacramento sailed on June 26.

Shortly after Trujillo was inaugurated as President the terrific hurricane of September, 1930, practically destroyed Santo Domingo City. The Brigade of Colonel Richard M. Cutts, from Haiti, sent assistance to Santo Domingo, the Marine aviators being among those who visited the stricken city on missions of relief.

Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams, on September 10, 1930, ordered Maj. Thomas E. Watson, of the Marines, who was on duty at Quantico, to duty as Naval Attache, American Legation, Santo Domingo City, his orders requiring him to report to the American Minister. "During your service as Naval Attache, you will regard the American Minister at Santo Domingo City as your superior officer and will, at all times, comply with such instructions as he may give you," ordered Secretary Adams.

Major Watson sailed from Hampton Roads aboard the U. S. S. Gilmer. He arrived at Port-au-Prince on September 12. The next morning Major Roy S. Geiger flew him to Santo Domingo City in a Ford transport plane. On February 25, 1931, Major Watson was detached from Quantico and Santo Domingo City made his permanent station. Major Watson was detached from this duty and sailed for the United States on the S. S. Coamo on July 28, 1931.

President Rafael L. Trujillo wrote the following letter dated October 30, 1930, to Major-General Commandant Ben H. Fuller:

"Now that Santo Domingo has been the victim of a devastating hurricane and that upon such a disastrous occasion the services of the United States Marine Corps were given with the greatest promptitude and efficiency, there come to my recollection the valuable services rendered by you to this country, when, during its Military Occupation by the forces of the United States, you occupied successively the office of Head of the Department of Interior and Police and the even higher one of Acting Military Governor, and I base upon your habitually favorable disposition towards our country the belief that your personal intervention was a principal part in the promptitude and efficiency with which the United States Marine Corps, which you now so ably command, served us on the above cited occasion.

"The good impression which you produced in serving our collective interests in the high offices which you filled during your stay in Santo Domingo in the service of the Military Government is naturally still lively amongst the Dominicans.

"I believe it to be opportune, distinguished General, to congratulate you upon your promotion to the command of the Marine Corps and with that purpose I have addressed you this letter; but I believe at the same time it is opportune to extend congratulations to that same Corps commanded by you, because it obtains by this fact the advantage of having a Chief profoundly imbued with military discipline and knowledge of human psychology, and very especially in that of the peoples of America intimately associated with the United States."

General Fuller's reply was as follows:

"It was with a feeling of great pleasure and satisfaction that I received your letter of congratulation, all the greater that it came from one who represents a country for which T have the warmest affection.

"I am much gratified at your praise of the services of the Marine Corps in the recent deplorable disaster, but while I would have been the first to act had I still been in Haiti, the credit for promptitude belongs to Colonel Cutts.

"I hope that some day I shall have an opportunity to visit your country again and renew the many delightful associations which remain fresh in my memory.

"With assurances of my highest consideration, Mr. President, I remain."

Brigadier-General Rufus H. Lane and Major Edward A. Ostermann visited Santo Domingo in March of 1931. They had proceeded to Haiti for the purpose of inspecting the Marines. General Lane served in the Dominican Republic from July, 1916. to February. 1920. He had filled the high offices of Secretary for Foreign Relations and for Justice and Education. On March 14 two planes flew from Port-au-Prince to Santo Domingo City piloted by Joe Ed Davis and "Tex" Rogers. General Lane was a passenger in the first and Major Ostcrmann in the second. On arrival they were met by Major "Tommie" Watson, the Naval Attache. They called on American Minister C. B. Curtis and then on President Rafael L. Truiillo. Senor Julio Ortega y Frier, a friend of General Lane and former Superintendent of Schools under him. accompanied them on the latter visit.

Major and Mrs. Watson were hosts to the visiting Marines for luncheon.

That night President Trujillo gave a dinner and dance at the Country Club in honor of General Lane and Major Ostermann. There were about fifty guests present including President Trujillo and his lady, the American Minister, Archbishop Noel who is a former president, Major and Mrs. Watson, and many others. The band of the Ejercito Nacional played during the dinner while a civilian orchestra jazzed music for the dance.

The General and the Major slept at Hotel Palacio, and left by plane for Port-au-Prince at 11 o'clock the following morning, after breakfast at the Hotel.

The two visitors were much impressed by the friendliness of the officials and the people and also the remarkable recovery the city had already made from the hurricane. They were also interested in the Marine-like Ejercito Nacional with its Marine-khaki uniforms and Mameluke-hilted swords.

On 21 October 1921, Maj McClellan suggested to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, MajGen John A. Lejeune, that 10 November be designated as the birth date of the Marine Corps, an anniversiary that had not typically been celebrated to that point.