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Top Army Lawyer Also Was A Combat Hero…Winship's Record In Puerto Rico Was Hardly Heroic

Top Army Lawyer Also Was A Combat Hero

By Robert F. Dorr; Special to the Times

May 3, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Army Times Publishing. All rights reserved.

CORRECTION: The date people in Puerto Rico became citizens is incorrect. The residents of that U.S. territory were granted citizenship in 1917.

Maj. Gen. Blanton Winship was the Army's top lawyer during the early years of the Great Depression, but he also was a combat hero who won the nation's second highest award for valor.

"His military service was a little unusual for a judge advocate," said Col. Frederic L. Borch III, a current Army attorney who studied Winship's life. "He was an expert on military law, but he was also a genuine war hero."

The Fort Carson, Colo., and Fort Gordon, Ga., Web sites characterize Winship as a judge advocate "who could 'do it all' … a Georgia native and graduate of Mercer University's Law School, [he] commanded two infantry regiments while also serving as judge advocate of the First Army," on the Western Front in France during World War I.

Winship was born in Georgia in 1869 and obtained a bachelor's degree from Mercer in 1889. He was awarded a bachelor of law degree from the University of Georgia in 1893 and practiced law in his home state.

The surge of patriotism that accompanied the outbreak of the Spanish-American War prompted Winship to join volunteer forces as a captain of the 1st Georgia Infantry. After three years of fighting in the Philippines, he became an officer in the regular Army and soon was an acting judge advocate.

By 1904, he had reached the rank of major. Winship held legal positions of increasing responsibility until 1914, when he began teaching law at the Army Service School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

In December 1917, he sailed for France where American troops were joining the world war.

In France, Winship, a colonel, appears to have held three jobs simultaneously – judge advocate for the First Army, and commander of the 110th and 118th Infantry Regiments of the 28th Division. He led the regiments when they fought in some of the war's major campaigns.

"His holding two commands at once was a sign of how highly [U.S. commander Gen. John] Pershing regarded him," Borch said.

Borch, author of several books about military law and Army decorations, said Winship's Distinguished Service Cross likely was awarded for his overall service rather than for a specific action.

"The citation is very vague," Borch said.

It credits Winship with "extraordinary heroism in action near Lacheussee, France, Nov. 9, 1918," two days before the armistice.

Winship's postwar legal achievements include duty as the Army's top lawyer, as a major general, from 1931 to 1933.

Winship retired in 1933 and was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the post of colonial governor of Puerto Rico. The move was widely viewed as an effort by the United States to quell militant sentiment for Puerto Rican independence.

Puerto Rican nationalists resented his leadership, and in March 1937, the acrimonious relationship between the United States and the island reached its peak. On March 21, 1937, Winship ordered police to put down a rally in the city of Ponce.

In what Puerto Rican nationalists call the "Ponce massacre," police fired on the crowd, killing between 20 to 22 people, according to various accounts. About 120 people were wounded.

Winship served as a territorial governor until 1939, and in 1940, the U.S. government granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans.

Winship returned to active duty during World War II. He became one of seven members of a military commission created in July 1942 to conduct a criminal trial of Nazi saboteurs arrested in the United States.

The commission frequently is cited as a precedent for military tribunals now being scheduled for Afghanistan detainees held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

When he retired in 1944 at age 75, Winship was the oldest Army officer on active duty. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1947.

Winship's Record In Puerto Rico Was Hardly Heroic


Paul Sakuma, The Associated Press

May 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Army Times Publishing. All rights reserved.

I'm taking exception to the panegyric written on Maj. Gen. Blanton Winship in "Duty, Honor, Country – A 5-Minute History Lesson" [May 3]. When a column claims to be a history lesson, the least it can do is get the history right.

Winship was governor of the territory of Puerto Rico from 1934 until 1939. The Puerto Rico Nationalist Party was founded in 1932, participated in the elections that year, obtained 2,000 votes and declared itself in abstention of "colonial" elections. The minority nationalists had a supposedly paramilitary cadet corps of black-shirted youths – which still exists.

In 1932, there was a shooting incident between the police and a group of nationalist university students traveling by car. Days later, two nationalist militants shot the chief of police on what has been proposed as their own initiative, as the chief was an acquaintance of the nationalist leader, lawyer and former U.S. Army officer Pedro Albizu Campos.

The gunmen were captured and killed. That's was the climate, hardly one of islandwide threat, in which Winship was appointed governor.

Winship came across as a man who liked to hold absolute power, and had no problem wearing several hats at the same time.

The parties in control of the legislature were the island's Republican Party in coalition with the Socialist Party, both pro-statehood. Winship reveled in almost absolute power over a servile legislature.

He was appointed as an overreaction to the reports coming from the island, and as a former officer in the Philippines who could deal with the fictional emergency.

This he did by staying aloof from most of administrative duties of the position and concentrating on militarizing the police, which led directly to the Palm Sunday incident, in which the nationalists were machine gunned by the Insular Police.

Winship was called "La Sombra Funesta," The Sinister Shadow, by the local media.

Following a fact-finding mission by New York Rep. Vito Marcantonio, the president dismissed Winship on May 12, 1939.

Since he later was a member of the military commission that judged the Nazi saboteurs (captured in uniform) under President Franklin Roosevelt's expressed wish to "hang them," I can only conclude that Winship performed his duties as enforcer for the president to the best of his abilities – even when he had to be creative with the law and ignore the rights of U.S. citizens and prisoners of war.

By the way, the government granted citizenship to Puerto Rico natives in 1917, as a corollary of granting citizenship to the natives of the Virgin Islands, in exchange for their former status as Danish subjects.

It was mainly the Winship-era repression that led the nationalists to finally revolt in 1950, to be put down by the Insular Government, under the first elected Puerto Rican governor, Luis Muñoz-Marín.

Winship had a good combat record. The fact that he led two regiments and was judge advocate for 1st Army at the same time are worthy of historical notice. But a hero? Hardly.

Lt. Col. Esteban Jimenez
Jacksonville, Fla.

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