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1932





A single event dominated the Nicaraguan scene throughout 1932. This was the presidential election. Like the one of 1928, which brought Moncada to power, and the local elections of the previous year, the coming political campaign would be waged under American supervision. In charge of the Electoral Mission was Clark H. Woodward. He would be assisted by the Guardia and by an Electoral Detachment of Marines and seamen drawn from the 2d Marine Brigade, the Special Service Squadron, and the Submarine Base, Coco Solo, Panama.<107>

As had been anticipated, the approaching election was the signal for renewed efforts by Sandino's extremists to overthrow the Moncada regime. Nor was the government itself unwilling to take up the gauntlet. Indeed, during the fighting of November-December 1931, Moncada himself had taken the field to direct operations against the rebels. The last year of the occupation promised its share of bitter battles, but most of them would be fought by the Guardia and by aviation units. The Brigade itself would be concerned mainly with the election.

Gradually the tempo of warfare increased, with the Guardia performing both valiantly and effectively. April, however, proved a particularly ill-starred month for Nicaraguan soldiery. The month began with a mutiny, the eighth in the brief history of the Guardia Nacional.<108> Early one morning, Captain Orrel A. Inman, USMC, had inspected the post at Kisalaya and then left by plane for Puerto Cabezas. Private Pablo P. Salmeron was ordered confined to the brig by 2d Lieutenant Carlos Reyes. Sergeant Sebastian Jimenez sided with the malcontent. The noncommissioned officer turned out his men, issued them their weapons, and demanded the commanding officer, Lieutenant Charles J. Levonski, turn Reyes over to the mutineers. Jimenez promised that no harm would come to the American provided he allowed the men to kill Reyes. When Levonski refused to betray the young Nicaraguan, he was shot to death. Reyes was wounded; and Jimenez, who turned outlaw, was killed later that month by Guardia troops.

More shocking than mutiny was the blow which fell on 21 April. While returning from Apali to Jalapa, a Guardia patrol under 2d Lieutenant Laurin T. Covington, GN, was ambushed as it crossed a small stream. Four men were killed before Covington was able to break contact. Meanwhile, a relief column, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Laurence C. Brunton, had come to Covington's assistance. Once the two patrols had met, all seemed safe; but the enemy had moved cross-country to establish still another ambush along the road. Covington, Brunton, and Finis L. Whitehead, an officer in the Guardia's Medical Corps, were killed when the trap was sprung; and their combined patrols were routed. In that day's fighting, ten Guardia were killed.<109>

Nor did every battle that month end in defeat for the Guardia. In the wilderness northeast of Ocotal on 26 April, a 45-man Guardia patrol fought a fierce three-hour battle with Sandino's men. The rebel firebrand may have been present at the fight; if so, he escaped. Not so fortunate was his Chief Judge, Florencio Silva. When the haze of battle cleared, Silva lay dead in the underbrush.<110>

Throughout May and June, the Guardia was in almost constant contact with the enemy. A total of 32 actions were fought during this period, the most successful a coordinated land-air attack on a rebel force at Neptune Mine. This battle accounted for 17 of the 62 Sandinistas killed during these eight weeks. Guardia bullets claimed the lives of two important revolutionaries, Ezequiel Zeledon and Sebastain Caceres, the latter Sandino's Chief of Police.<111>

So splendid was this record that it offset the effect of still another mutiny, the last to occur during the occupation, which broke out at San Isidoro on 30 June. A Nicaraguan officer, Lieutenant Gonzales, had a grudge against the detachment commander, 2d Lieutenant Edward II. Schmierer, GN. Shortly after midnight, Gonzales strode into the American's quarters and shot him dead. Although they refused to participate in the crime, the Guardias passively allowed the mutineer and his four followers to ransack the armory and escape.<112>

Typical of the new spirit which had been infused into the Guardia was the work of Captain Puller's command, a mobile force operating in Jinotega. Early in September, Puller discovered a trail which seemed to be the route used by the rebels in their southward thrusts. Returning to Jinotega, he organized a strong patrol and, on 20 September, he pushed off.

A volley of rifle fire greeted the column on the morning of 26 September, as it was moving northwest from the bank of the Auyabal River. A quick charge sent the attackers scurrying, for this was merely an attempt to harass the patrol. A Lewis machine gun in the skilled hands of Lieutenant William A. Lee kept the enemy pinned down while the Guardia worked their way up the slope opposite the ambush party. When they had gained the crest, they were able to fire directly into the rebel emplacements.

Puller's men had penetrated the center of a rebel encampment, killing 16 of the enemy in the process. Although as many as 150 Sandinistas may have taken part in the action, the Guardia suffered only two killed and three wounded. To obtain medical care for his wounded, Puller immediately started back toward Jinotega. Twice the patrol was ambushed, but it suffered no further casualties. Instead, eight rebels were cut down by the gallant Guardia. On 30 September, Puller's band arrived at Jinotega.<113>

During the time that Puller and the other Marines serving with the Guardia were engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the campaign, the officers and men of the Brigade were laying the groundwork for the November elections. Nor was this an easy task, for President Moncada had decided that he did not want the help of the Americans. In fact, Admiral Woodward felt certain that the President was toying with the idea of becoming dictator.<114>

Not even the fruits of victory would unite the Liberal Party. After months of quarreling and a primary election, the party finally settled upon Juan B. Sacasa, a well educated idealist, as candidate for President with Rudolfo Espinasa as his running-mate. The Conservatives, apparently still hoping for American aid, trotted out Adolfo Diaz, twice the American-supported President of Nicaragua, and Emiliano Chamorro. On 6 November, the Conservatives went down to defeat 76,030 to 54,487.<115>

One of the achievements of Moncada's regime had been the extension of the railway system. He wished to dedicate this new line from Leon to El Sauce before he left office, so official ceremonies were slated for 28 December. Soon, rumors were afoot that Sandino himself would blast the line to atoms and Moncada with it. The mission of guarding both the railroad and the Chief Executive fell to Captain Puller, 7 Marines, and 64 Guardias.

As the trainload of troops neared the terminus of the line, a construction camp a few miles south of El Sauce, the chatter of machine guns split the air. Juan Umanzor, with over 100 men, had been sacking the camp when the train chugged into sight. The rebels thought that it carried arms for the El Sauce garrison and promptly opened fire. When Puller's men leaped from the cars, their weapons blazing, Umanzor's troops were shocked, but they clung to their ground. Not until a flanking movement had failed--the rebels collided with a band of Guardia attempting the same maneuver and were cut to ribbons--did the enemy retreat. Thirty Sandinistas were killed in the 90-minute fight; and two days later, on the 28th as scheduled, Moncada formally opened the new rail line.<116>




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