MARINES HAVE LANDED AND THE SITUATION ISWELL IN HAND…
As I sat at my desk the usual New London High School cafeteria midday feed, a hearty 25ȼ grinder, a couple of 3ȼ half pint cartons of milk, a bag of State Line potato chips, and a banana, consorted with the warm late spring sunshine streaming through the tall classroom window to lull me into a post lunch torpor. Being less than 100% attentive in Miss Sullivan’s History of the Americas class, or any of her classes for that matter, was not a wise idea. The demanding teacher was quick to pounce on anyone she perceived as not laser focused on the educational business at hand and my often wandering mind seemed to make me a preferred target.
Miss Sullivan was my favorite teacher of my favorite subject. She knew her stuff, was no nonsense, I could not charm her, and so she was able to bring out the best in me. None the less I lived in absolute fear of her and masochistically took every class she taught
Her voice cleaved my lethargy like a diamond cutter’s blade slicing off a facet. Nothing before, or since, has been able to focus me like her penetrating ringing tone. It brought me instantly to attention. “Mr. Rocketto, please give us a précis of the Banana Wars,” she commanded.
For a millisecond I thought she was talking about my crony Gordon Bryson and I sophomorically slapping each other with the peel from my dessert during lunch earlier that day, but quickly gathered my senses.
I reeled off that the Banana Wars was a series of US interventions in the Caribbean and Central America during the first three decades of the 20th century. While the Monroe Doctrine gave valid reasons for landing Marines, the major justification was the “protection of American property and citizens”, namely United Fruit and Standard Fruit and so the informal name. Having had my moment in the sun, in more ways than one, Miss Sullivan moved onto another classmate.
Temporarily out of danger my mind wandered off, as is its wont, to recall a little known footnote in my favorite sport, rifle shooting. It connected the Banana Wars and the little nation that sits on the western end of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti.
The United States Marines are known for their prowess with the rifle and many of the Corps great rifleman were engaged in military operations during the Banana Wars. In Haiti they served in the Gendarmerie d’Haiti as advisors. Distinguished Marksman Lieutenant Colonel Douglas C. McDougal was assigned as Major General Chief of the Gendarmerie in 1921 and found the force to be well organized by his predecessor, Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler. McDougal noted that the well trained gendarmes had spare time and thought that rifle practice might be a constructive way to use that time to increase their military efficiency.
McDougal called upon Major Harry Smith, another Distinguished Marksman, and the Gendarmerie soon had a robust rifle program. It was not without its rough spots as the Haitian’s Creole vocabulary did not encompass much technical jargon, but the Marines persevered, and the men began to shoot very well.
They shot so well that in 1923 members of the Gendarmerierequested permission to send a team to the 1924 Paris Olympics. Even though the Olympics would be shot at 400, 600, and, 800 meters, and no Haitian had fired at a distance longer than 200 yards, they managed to convince McDougal to allow them to compete.
Money being short, McDougal’s agreement was predicated on the requirement that they could fund the trip. Within a week they returned to tell him that every officer and enlisted man in the Gendarmerie had agreed to contribute five percent of his pay for five months to raise the $5,000 needed to cover the expense. With that McDougal acquired enough Springfield 30 caliber Model 1922 Match Rifles, with Lyman 48 sights, and Remington Palma ammunition, loaded with HiVel powder, to outfit the team.
Arriving in Paris McDougal found the US Rifle team was headed by a fellow Marine. Distinguished Marksman, Major Littleton W.T. Waller, Jr. who had shooting thoroughbreds Marines Morris “Bud’ Fisher and Raymond Coulter, Naval Academy graduate Walter Stokes, Joseph Crockett, and Lieutenant Sidney Hinds, USA in his stable.
In the 600 meter individual prone competition, the Haitians showed their potential. Ludovic Augustin placed fifth with Ludovic Valborge tied for sixth. Destin Destine tied for tenth and Astrell Rolland wound up thirteenth out of a field of 69.
On match day the Haitians added Eloi Metullus to round out the five man team. They came on strong, tying for third at 400 meters and moved into second place after 600 meters. The Haitian’s strong showing had the US worried and Waller was sourly looking over his shoulder at fellow Marine McDougal with a censorious eye.
At 800 meters the US took a commanding lead and won by 30 points, certainly fending off a heated discussion between Waller and McDougal had events taken a different turn. The Haitians had tied with their former colonial masters, France, for second. The French, by virtue of a two point higher score at 800 meters, took second on the tie breaker, but Haiti had earned its first Olympic medal.
The bell rang, ending my reverie, and I gathered up my books and scurried out into the bustling hallway. It being Wednesday I headed down to the pipe tunnel where rifle coach George Gregory had built an eight point range. It was not Haiti, but it was just as successful a proving ground for me as the Gendarmerie ranges were for the 1924 Haitian Olympic Rifle Team.