Q I was part of the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 by the 82nd Airborne Division and the 5th Marines. I know there were more than 40,000 American troops there, including several thousand from the Organization of American States, and we had more than 120 people killed. But when I mention the operation, most people have never heard of it. One teacher of American history at our local college flatly stated the whole thing was a fabrication; that we invaded the Dominican Republic in 1918 or so, but not since then. Can you recommend some sources?
M. C. “Bud” Himes
CWO, U.S. Army (ret)
A Two good sources that tell the story in detail are Rag-Tags, Scum, Riff-Raff and Commies, by Eric Thomas Chester, and Military Crisis Management, by Herbert G. Schoonmaker. I too remember the events of 1965 in Santo Domingo, though Vietnam seems to have eclipsed them in most Americans’ minds. On December 20, 1962, Juan Bosch became the first elected president of the Dominican Republic—after some 25 years of dictatorship—and tried to establish a democratic, secular constitution. Conservative landowners, the military, and the clergy found it unacceptable, however, and on September 25, 1963, a military coup overthrew Bosch and replaced him with a junta led by Donald Reid Cabral. On April 24, 1965, the Constitutionalists, militarily led by Francisco Caamaño Deñó, revolted in Santo Domingo and overthrew the junta, only to be opposed by the Dominican military under General Elías Wessen y Wessin. On April 28 Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, believing the junta’s claims that the Constitutionalists were Communist-
influenced and would turn the Dominican Republic into another Cuba, committed what came to total 42,000 American troops, supplemented by an Inter-American Peace Force (2,200 troops drawn from Brazil, Honduras, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador) representing the Organization of American States; they were to restore stability and “protect American lives.” Fighting continued until September 3, when a provisional presidency was established under Héctor García-Godoy. The American occupation officially lasted until July 6, 1966, although some troops remained for months thereafter. Elections in 1966 placed Joaquín Balaguer Ricardo in power…for the next 12 years.
Official American casualties came to 44 dead (27 killed in action) and 172 wounded, along with six Brazilians and five Paraguayans wounded. More than 2,000 Dominicans were killed, 1,000 of them civilians.
From the American standpoint, the Dominican intervention was a success, especially compared with the ultimate outcome of the Indochina wars, but another perspective on it was expressed in Tom Lehrer’s satiric song of that year, “Send the Marines”: “They’ve got to be protected, all their rights respected, ’til someone we like can be elected….”
Jon Guttman, HistoryNet’s research director, is the author of many military histories.
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