March military milestones — Mexico to Vietnam

The other morning around the coffee-and-conversation table, one of our vets remarked on the several auspicious anniversaries coming up this month.

One of them has to do with a current hot topic, which is Mexico. It was actually 101 years ago, today, that our very first aviation unit participated in military action. The Unit was called the 1st Aero Squadron and was formed in 1913 at the Army Signal Corps Aviation School at North Island California. Tension with Mexico was increasing in 1913 and President Howard Taft ordered the 2nd Army Division to mobilize a defense plan against Mexico. In March of that year, a small group of officers and enlisted men were formed to learn how to fly and maintain the new Curtiss JN2s Biplanes, called the Jennys. So in early March of 1916 when Pancho Villa and about 1,000 of his troops crossed the border at Columbus, New Mexico, then looted and burned the town and killed about 17 of it’s citizens. Then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson asked permission of Mexico President Carranza to send U.S. troops across the border to capture Villa, and Carranza agreed. Gen. Pershing was

assigned to pursue and disperse Villa’s forces and thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to use the 1st Aero Squadron for observation support of the ground forces and ordered them to Columbus, New Mexico. Eight of the Curtiss Jennys flew hundreds of missions for Gen. Pershing and the 7,000 troops that invaded Mexico. They never found Pancho Villa, and in early 1917 withdrew from Mexico.

This military action however gave the 1st Aero Squadron very important experience for their upcoming deployment to the battlefields of Europe during World War I. (Interesting to note here that Gen. James Alward Van Fleet was a newly commissioned second lieutenant of infantry out of West Point,…