Lessons from History

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James W. Marrs
  • 217th Training Squadron Commander
In November of 1910, a Mexican Revolution began with little mention in the American press. By February of 1911, arms were being illegally smuggled to Mexico from the United States, and the American government did little to halt their flow to the revolutionaries. By April, the Mexican Revolution had spread to 18 states in Mexico, including Morelos where the revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata Salazar, also known as "Zapata," was. He formed and commanded an important revolutionary force, known as the Zapatistas. Zapata eventually joined forces with another revolutionary, José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as "Pancho Villa." Violence in the border states of Mexico sometimes spilled over into Texas, New Mexico or Arizona and stories in the printed press of the time reflected growing concern among American citizens that the violence might get worse if not checked.

Germany secretly supported various factions of the Mexican revolutionary forces, hoping to keep America distracted and preventing or delaying our entry into the growing European conflict on the side of the British and French. In 1914, after U.S. agents discovered that the German merchant ship Ypiranga was carrying illegal arms to one of the Mexican factions, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered ships and ground troops to the port of Veracruz in an unsuccessful attempt to intercept the arms.

After Pancho Villa's attack on Columbus, New Mexico, in March of 1916, U.S. Army Gen. John J. Pershing was called into service to lead an expedition to capture Villa. The unsuccessful nine-month pursuit included ground incursions into Mexico by hundreds of American troops and the use of eight Curtiss JN-3 "Jenny" aircraft of the U.S. Army Signal Corps to perform reconnaissance and surveillance missions. Villa was deeply entrenched in the mountains of northern Mexico and knew the terrain too well to be captured by the U.S. forces. General Pershing was forced to abandon the mission and return to the U.S. The U.S. incursions into Mexico further damaged the strained U.S.-Mexico relationship and caused anti-American sentiment there to grow stronger.

Gun smuggling and small-scale cross-border incidents by Mexican bandits and revolutionaries continued. It soon became evident that the small contingent of regular Army troops was insufficient to secure the vast U.S.-Mexican border.

On May 9, the National Guards of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were called into Federal service. The following month, almost the entire National Guard from all 48 states, except for coastal artillery units, was called to active duty. Within days, the first of 158,664 National Guardsmen were taking up positions along the border from Yuma, AZ, to McAllen, Texas. National Guard units began patrolling the border almost immediately and no further incursions into the United States occurred.

Though only a few of the American military personnel facing Mexico ever saw any direct action, their patrols, encampments and regular field training before their demobilization in November prepared them for their re-mobilization in February 1917 for the European war. Once in Europe, almost all saw more action than they wanted.

Back in the U.S., our troops trained hard to keep up with this new type of war - with machine guns, aircraft, tanks and poisonous gas - that was being waged in Europe. On July 8, 1918, my grandfather, 2nd Lt. Theodore C. Marrs, soloed in an updated Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplane at Kelly Field, Texas. On Aug. 29, after more than a year working for the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C, Lieutenant Marrs' wife, Louise Schenck Marrs, gave birth to my father in Rutherfordton, N.C. On Oct. 5, one day after completion of combat training and while preparing for deployment to Europe, Lieutenant Marrs was killed in a flying accident at Kelly Field. The guns of what would later be referred to as World War I ceased one month later, on Nov. 11, 1918, and the stage began to be set for the next World War.

By the end of World War I, more than 116,000 American military personnel would be dead and more than 205,000 wounded. From the Rio Grande in 1910, to the Argonne Forest in 1918, rapid technological advances resulting in the haphazard introduction of new weapons, as well as sluggish adjustments to supporting tactics, contributed significantly to the unprecedented loss of life. During this time, the lives of many American military members and their families changed dramatically. Weapons, tactics, adversaries, geography, weather, doctrines - all varied with great speed.

From Sept. 11, 2001, until today, our world has changed no less dramatically. What will the next 8-10 years bring for the students currently at Goodfellow? Are you aware of the technological, socio-economic, religious and political factors driving great changes all around you? Will you be prepared for the challenges ahead? Are our instructors and staff members giving their best to ensure their students are prepared to meet these challenges? Take a look at history and ask yourself if you're adequately preparing for the future.