The Wapsie Experience

Ken Donnelly · Wednesday, April 9, 2014
The spring of 1914 brought news to West Liberty of the occupation of the Mexican port of Vera Cruz by United States Marines and sailors. Mexico was in the midst of a violent revolution.

On April 9, nine American sailors were arrested by the Mexican government for entering off-limit areas in Tampico. Our men had entered a fuel loading station which was considered an off-limit area. The sailors were released, but our naval commander demanded an apology and a twenty-one gun salute from Mexico. We got the apology, but not the salute.

President Woodrow Wilson ordered the navy to prepare for the occupation of the port of Vera Cruz. As this was not yet the era of the imperial presidency, Wilson was waiting for congressional approval to carry out any action. Then word reached Washington of the impending delivery of weapons to the Mexican revolutionary leader, Victoriano Huerta on a German ship due to arrive on April 21. Huerta had assumed the Mexican presidency in a coup d'etat in 1913.

Our government supported the army of Venustiano Carranza and announced an embargo of any arms shipments coming to Huerta. (As an aside, embargo spelled backwards is O grab me! So Wilson felt we needed to grab these German arms. Faced with this imminent situation, Wilson ordered our fleet to seize the customs office at Vera Cruz and confiscate the arms.

On the morning of April 21, our Atlantic fleet arrived. Over 500 Marines and 282 armed Navy sailors, known as "Bluejackets" from the battleship USS Florida began the invasion.

One of the Americans going ashore under Mexican fire was Clarence Parvin, son of the Eugene Parvins of West Liberty. He had been on the high school football team just two years earlier. The Index of April 23 also reported that Fred Croxen, whose parents lived in rural Atalissa, was an officer in the Army infantry stationed in southern Arizona and "is expected to be among the first should the land forces be ordered to march on Mexico." That order was never given.

Back to Vera Cruz. As the U.S. military left their ships,the Bluejackets went for the customs house, post office, telegraph office; the Marines captured the railroad terminal, the cable office and the power plant. There was a big fire fight in the rail yard. Overnight, five more battleships and two cruisers arrived. Fifteen hundred more soldiers entered the fray. By April 24, fighting had ceased and our troops were in charge of the city.

The week of the attack The Index produced a story entitled, "Local Mexicans Not Interested" The paper interviewed Jose Cisernos, spokesman for the local Mexican railroad laborers. "We don't care what your country does to Huerta. None of us will go back there to fight. Why should we? But there is no work there for us. The laborer is treated well enough down there, but now there is no work. There has been none for a long time. So we stay here. Let them fight."

By late June local sailor Clarence Parvin came home on a 30-day furlough. He was a member of the engineering corps aboard the battleship Utah, and as was indicated earlier, was one of the first men to land at Vera Cruz. Quoting the Index story: "As the boat in which Parvin was riding, neared the shore, the Mexicans opened fire and a man beside the local boy fell from his seat, dead, a bullet wound in his neck."

Young Parvin spoke of evading Mexican snipers who fought our forces for several days. Unofficial figures for the skirmish placed American casualties as 22 killed and 70 wounded; Mexican losses totaled about 160 dead and about 225 wounded.

Seven months later on November 23, 1914, U.S. forces withdrew after a peace conference arranged by the ABC nations: Argentina, Brazil and Chile at Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, arranged for the withdrawal. Clarence Parvin served honorably in World War One along with nearly 150 men and one woman from the West Liberty area. Who was she? Maybe her proud relatives will write a letter to the editor and tell us all her story.

Next time we will travel to Long Beach, California for the yearly West Liberty picnic on the shores of the Pacific. Were you ever present for one? Were your friends and relatives ever part of it?
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