Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Humpday History Highlight

March 19, 1916 - The First U.S. Air Combat Mission Begins

On this day in 1916, the First Aero Squadron, organized in 1914 after the outbreak of World War I, flies a support mission for the 7,000 U.S. troops who, six days earlier, had invaded Mexico on President Woodrow Wilson’s orders to capture Mexican revolutionary Francisco “Pancho” Villa “dead or alive.”

Why we don't use the term, "Dead or Alive" anymore? It is a rather poignant phrase.

On March 9, Villa, who opposed American support for the newly elected president of Mexico, Venustiano Carranza, had led a band of several hundred guerrillas across the border on a raid of the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing 17 Americans. The mission to capture Villa, which eventually involved some 10,000 U.S. troops, was commanded by U.S. Brigadier General John J. Pershing, the future commander in chief of American troops during World War I. It was the first U.S. military operation to employ mechanized vehicles, including automobiles and the airplanes of the First Aero Squadron, which were used to scout enemy activity and relay messages for General Pershing.

I wonder if any of the Mexican banditos looked up at the sky and yelled, "De plane, de plane?"

Despite numerous mechanical and navigational problems, the American fliers flew hundreds of missions for Pershing and gained important experience that would later benefit the pilots over the battlefields of Europe. However, during the 11-month mission, U.S. forces failed to capture the elusive revolutionary, and Mexican resentment over U.S. intrusion into their territory led to a diplomatic crisis.

True enough, but this mission was the first step in a storied history of American aviators. While this mission failed to meet its objective, it provided a wealth of knowledge and experience that benefited the military long after 1916.

For his part, Villa continued his guerrilla activities in northern Mexico until Adolfo de la Huerta took power over the Mexican government and drafted a reformist constitution. Villa entered into an amicable agreement with Huerta and agreed to retire from politics. In 1920, the Mexican government pardoned Villa. Three years later, still a symbol of popular resistance against governmental repression, he was killed at his ranch in Parral by an unknown assailant. (H/T - History.com)

I am surprised that Villa has not achieved the cult status of that murderous thug Che Guevara with the liberal Berkeley hippie crowd. Of course, if they are reading this . . .

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