The U.S. invasion of Veracruz Mexico

Ed note: The U.S. invasion of Veracruz Mexico in 1914 was precipitated by the Tampico Incident a few weeks earlier, which American authorities viewed as an insult by the Huerta administration. Adding to the tension was word that the freighter Ypiranga was approaching Veracruz with arms for the Huerta administration in violation of an American arms embargo.

At 2:00 AM on April 21, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the immediate seizure of the Veracruz customs house, and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels passed the order on to Admiral Fletcher. The battleships USS Utah and USS Florida, accompanied by the transport USS Prairie and the light cruiser USS Chester were already cruising off Veracruz, and Admiral Fletcher was ordered to seize the customs house before the German freighter Ypiranga could unload its cargo of arms and ammunition in violation of the American arms embargo. Fletcher sent an officer ashore with a message requesting that the US consul in Veracruz ask the Mexican government not to resist the landing.

In late morning steam launches towed in whale boats loaded with 502 Marines from the USS Prairie and 285 sailors off the USS Florida. They landed at Pier 4 without resistance at 10:20 AM. The Marines fanned out to capture the train station, cable office, telegraph office, power company, and post office without opposition. Meanwhile, the 1st Company of the Naval Battalion advanced from the docks towards the customs house, led by Naval Academy graduate George Lowry.

U.S. invasion of Veracruz Mexico
US troops enter Veracruz Mexico in 1914
LC LC-DIG-ggbain-15830-300×232

General Huerta instructed Gen. Gustavo Maas not to resist an American landing, but Maas had mobilized 600 Federal soldiers from the 18th and 19th Battalions as well as the cadets at the Mexican Naval Academy. He had also armed local citizens and freed criminals from the jail to help with the defense. When the landings occurred he sent 100 men to “repel the invasion.”

The US sailors reached Calle Emparan, a block from the customs house, when a Mexican policeman armed with a revolver fired on them at 12:30 PM. Ordinary citizens joined with local policemen to resist the invasion, firing from rooftops and street corners. The various landing parties were suddenly engaged in house-to-house fighting against snipers.

Lowry’s men took cover in doorways and huddled against the side of buildings as the Mexicans brought two machine guns to bear on Lowry’s command. One gun positioned outside the Naval Academy was withdrawn under fire, but the second gun, firing from an upstairs window in the Hotel Oriente, effectively pinned down the Americans sailors.

Lowry and five volunteers dashed into an alley between the customs house and a new, stoutly-built custom’s warehouse. The Hotel Oriente gun and the snipers in the customs house caught Lowry in a crossfire. One of his men was killed and another wounded. Lowry had a button shot off his cap and suffered a minor leg wound, but the others concentrated their fire on the machine gun. Finally, in a scene that could have been taken from a western movie, a Mexican policeman toppled out of the second story window of the Hotel Oriente, and the firing from the machine gun stopped. Lowry’s men climbed through a window into the customs house and disarmed the clerks inside.

At the sound of fighting, Admiral Fletcher sent a landing party from the USS Utah, commanded by Ensign Paul Foster (an Annapolis classmate of Lowry). As they approached the customs house, they were fired on from the warehouse. In search of cover, some of the sailors used a railroad rail to break into a building. Foster ordered some of the supplies in the warehouse loaded on several hand trucks, and he used the loaded trucks for cover on the city streets as he pushed his way into the city.

Cadets from the Mexican Naval Academy kept up a steady fire aimed at the waterfront and the boats from the Utah. The Marines returned fire with machine guns, killing 15 Mexicans. The USS Prairie and USS Chester pulled close to shore and fired their guns at the cadets, killing many. The US ships destroyed the naval academy and killed large numbers of civilians.

Sailor guards the Mexican naval academy in Veracruz, Mexico

At 3:00 PM Admiral Fletcher halted his troops and tried to contact the Mexican government. Two hours later he decided to put his forces on the defensive for the night, while an additional 1,500 troops were brought ashore. By the next morning, the Americans went on the offensive, and controlled the entire city by noon.

Read more about the Mexican Revolution


The Reality TV Tax Reform Games of 2014

This is a little bit of a departure from what I usually write, but thought I would throw it out there anyway

Americans are divided on many issues, but find common ground in the universal belief that the current U.S. tax policy is utterly dysfunctional and desperately needs to be simplified. Since our leaders on Capitol Hill have repeatedly failed to make any significant improvement to the tax system, I would like to propose a radical idea for reforming the U.S. Tax Code, which I am calling the Reality TV Tax Reform Games Act of 2014. My hope is that the following proposed legislation will encourage Congress to demolish our current tax system and start over.

My proposal is that one week before the annual tax deadline on April 15, all 535 members of Congress, the President of the United States, and the nine members of the Supreme Court shall meet in executive session in the House Chambers for the sole purpose of personally completing their tax returns on live television in front of the American people. (While the games are under way the Vice-President shall oversee the various functions of government in a “secure location”.)

All members will be required to bring hard copies of their tax records, and only tax-related documents shall be allowed in the room. Cell phones, Blackberries, laptops, tablets, hip flasks and personal sidearms must be checked at the door. The honorable members will be supplied with the necessary paper tax forms and there will be one copy of the Internal Revenue Code available in the House chamber (there is room for only one copy because at 73,954 pages the tax code is five times larger than the 22-volume World Book Encyclopedia). In addition, the Commissioner of the IRS will be on hand to help members with their personal tax questions. However, no other tax help will be available. No accountants. No tax preparation software. No tax lawyers. No assistance whatsoever other than the chief of the IRS and the elected officials who are responsible for the debacle that is the tax system. (Technically the members of the Supreme Court aren't elected officials, but they do rule on important tax questions, and have won the right to experience the tax system up close and personal.)

The American people deserve the opportunity to watch their elected officials attempt to navigate through a Byzantine maze of federal tax regulations. Therefore, every moment of the proceedings will be televised 24 hours per day until each and every participant has filed their taxes. Revenue from sale of the broadcast rights will be earmarked to reduce the national debt. The Treasury will also receive a percentage of the revenue from online gambling, with a nearly endless variety of possible wagers. “Will the members of the Senate Finance Committee finish their taxes before the members of the House Ways and Means Committee?” “Republicans before Democrats?” “Women before men?” To discourage cheating, participants who wish to amend their return after the games conclude will be required to post their complete tax return on all of the major social networks.

I imagine that the Tax Reform Games will attract competing bids from several major television networks, because who doesn't like to watch public officials squirm on camera. Color commentary will be provided by political pundits and professional play-by-play announcers, with additional critiques by snarky figure skating judges. Experienced reality television producers will have no problem refining the rules of the game for the enjoyment of the American public, although there will be no lack of drama once the lawmakers wade into the morass of the tax system. Cameras will capture the shaking hands, the panic attacks, the flop sweats, the looks of utter confusion and despair. As tempers fray there will no doubt be arguments breaking out on the floor over who was responsible for particularly egregious tax rules and bizarre loopholes.

During the Reality TV Tax Games, the participants will be forbidden all contact with lobbyists, aides, pollsters and the media. Perhaps most uncomfortable for the participants, all fund-raising activities must cease while the tax reform games are underway. To ensure compliance, the National Security Agency will monitor all communications emanating from Capitol Hill and campaign headquarters (which will cost taxpayers nothing as they apparently do that already).

Bathroom breaks will of course be allowed, but with a few exceptions, no one will be allowed to leave the chamber until the Reality TV Tax Games are successfully concluded. Folding cots will be provided, along with military-issue MREs and bottled water. In order to ensure a swift resolution to the tax games, no bathing or laundry facilities will be provided to the participants.

Once a day during the games the public will vote for the participant who submits the most effective tax reform idea. This winner will be allowed to leave upon completion of his or her tax return. Bored lawmakers who finish early shall also be encouraged to show off their personal talents in an “American Idol” style competition. Potential categories could include dancing away from the truth, singing to the grand jury, the art of the filibuster, and the dramatic reading of books written for preschoolers. Viewers will have the opportunity to vote on other factors as well, including most prolific perspiration, most visible discomfort, most vitriolic rant, and most creative cursing.

The games will end when every participant has filed with the IRS. Imagine the discomfort of that last hapless Congressman or Senator who is struggling to calculate his Section 179 depreciation while enduring glares from the gallery of hungry, cranky, and sleep-deprived legislators. In compensation for the humiliation, the Last Loser shall receive an automatic appointment to either the House Ways and Means committee or the Senate Finance Committee, in hopes that a public shaming will help motivate him to reform the tax code.

So if you are one of the tens of millions of Americans who have lost patience with our country's totally dysfunctional tax system, I urge you to contact your Senator or Representative today and urge them to co-sponsor the Reality TV Tax Reform Act of 2014, if for no other reason than to watch them turn pale and clammy.


Korean War Interview – Charlie Israel

I saw in the paper today that Korean War vet Charlie Israel passed away in Hamilton at age 80. I interviewed Charlie for the Missoulian newspaper back in 1997, and thought I would post that old interview in his honor.

Charlie Israel is a jovial man who credits his military experience in Korea as a life-changing event. “I think the service is the best thing to happen to any young man.” Israel was living in Los Angeles and studying photography at a trade school when he was drafted. He was eighteen-and-a-half at the time. “I was very naïve, never been away from home.”

After infantry school he was trained as a cook, and shortly thereafter found himself packed into a troop ship destined for Korea, along with hundreds of other seasick soldiers. He described the journey across the Pacific as a nightmare that seemed to last much longer than the actual twelve days.

Upon embarking at Sasebo, Japan, he caught a different ship bound for Korea. It was then that Israel realized what was in store for him. He laughs, recalling his feelings at the time. “Being a devout coward, I got the shock of my life when they gave me an M-1 rifle to be cleaned. I realized I should have been a better marksman, but it was too late.”

As they neared the front line, Israel got another shock when he saw the artillery shells bursting ahead. “It looked like the Fourth of July with all the things in the sky. I knew I was in deep trouble and wanted to go home.”

Israel worked as a cook for two days before the Army decided that he could better serve his country in the Signal Corps. After a few unhappy weeks digging post holes and climbing telephone poles, Israel managed to arrange a transfer to the I Corps photo unit.

He found himself part of a thirteen-man unit responsible for taking all photographs within a 30-mile radius of I Corps headquarters at Uijongbu, an area that covered the demilitarized zone (DMZ). “We did everything from criminal investigations to public relations and documentaries.” The work varied from photographing prisoners in the stockades to photos of mechanical failure on helicopters and aircraft.

The photographers worked out of a trailer converted to a photo processing lab. “The front of the trailer had motion picture equipment. You could do color, stills, the whole bit.” They also had a darkroom tent, and later a Quonset hut.

Israel covered the building of Freedom Village at Panmunjom and the prisoner of war exchange in 1953, and some of his photos were published in the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. He also took many photos of the Korean people, including weddings and funeral processions. One of his favorite subjects was the Korean children. Many of his photos show groups of ragged street urchins. “We called them slickee boys, slickee kids, they would try to cut your camera strap, steal your wallet or your watch. There were a tremendous amount of kids on their own, orphaned by the war.”

Perhaps the best duty for an I Corps photographer was when high-ranking generals came to tour the front line. Israel was once attached to four-star general Maxwell Taylor (“quite a gentleman”) for a week to ten days. “You ate very well, and you lived excellently when you were with the general.”

Nevertheless, most of the time Private Israel lived in a tent and shared the hardships of life in a war zone. “I can still to this day remember the smell of death,” he recalls.

“Korea was a great adventure for a young man. It was very enlightening. If you don’t take it as an adventure, and decide to fight the system, you’re in deep trouble.”

Israel has doubts that the U.S. should have intervened in Korea, explaining, “it wasn’t our place to save the world,” but he has no such doubts about the need for the Montana Korean War Memorial. “I hope we finally get the recognition. A lot of guys died over there. We were forgotten.”

Israel continued to serve as an Army photographer for a few months after he left Korea, and today owns the Image Maker, a thriving custom photo lab in Hamilton. His photographs of Korea were on display Friday, June 13, 1997 at the dance honoring Montana’s Korean War veterans held at Minuteman Aviation, Missoula County Airport.

Korean War Interview – Dennis Tate

Korean War Interview – Fred Raunig

Korean War Interview – Ken Brown

Korean War Timeline