Rubin became active in student politics and was a member of the American Student Union. He later recalled: "Although my politics definitely leaned leftward, I was politically unattached. I subscribed to no political theory and belonged to no party or organization."
Rubin took a keen interest in the Spanish Civil War after reading an account of the struggle by Ralph Bates. In April 1937 he was approached by a member of the Young Communist League and asked if he wished to join the International Brigades. He added: "I must tell you that the casualties are very high... about 50 percent mortality, and a high percentage of the survivors are wounded." Rubin, who was deeply concerned about the growth of fascism in Nazi Germany, decided to accept the offer.
Hank's father, who was a lifelong Republican, was completely opposed to the idea of him going to Spain. However, as he explained: "In so many respects, Dad was a very strong negative role model... I had nothing but disdain for his hypocrisy of decrying anti-Semitism and then in the next breath railing in a racist way against blacks."
Before going to Spain Rubin joined the American Communist Party. He later admitted: "The reality of the Soviet Union, the complex ideology of Marx, and the actual practices of Stalin hardly made a dent in my consciousness. All I knew was that the Communist party at that time was the leader in the struggle for change, for the things I wanted for our country. And I particularly appreciated the party position in support of the Spanish Republic."
In August 1937 Rubin arrived in Tarazona de la Mancha, the headquarters for training English-speaking troops. Initially he was assigned to the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, which, in spite of being called the Canadian Battalion, was almost two-thirds American. While he was training the camp was visited by Ernest Hemingway and Ralph Bates. He later recalled, "both of whom had personal fascination for me because their writings were in some part of the inspiration for my coming to Spain."
Rubin's first military commander was Milton Herndon, who along with Oliver Law, was one of the leading African-Americans in the war. Rubin comments in his autobiography, Spain's Cause Was Mine (1997): "His (Herndon) position of command was quite a historical event because he and Oliver Law, the commander of the Lincolns, were the first blacks in American history to command white soldiers... Unfortunately, Milt was killed in action soon after we were sent to the front."
In September 1937, Rubin was appointed as the political commissar of the machine gun company. "The new assignment, I guessed, was given to me because I was a college student and assumed therefore to be smart, and, because I was a party member, presumed to be stable and politically reliable... Joe, the battalion commissar, simply told me I had this new and additional duty, that my job was to see that the needs of the men in the company were taken care of as well as was possible, that they were as safe as could be in combat, that they were enthusiastic about their work, that they were in good physical condition, that they were learning to be good soldiers, and that they had the correct political attitude, which, of course, was never defined."
The following month Rubin and the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion moved to the front-line at the Ebro. However, he was sent back to base when it was discovered that he was suffering from yellow jaundice. When he recovered he was sent to work with the British Medical Aid Unit established by Kenneth Sinclair Loutit at Grañén near Huesca on the Aragon front. Over the next few months he worked as a transfusionist under Dr. Reginald Saxton.
Rubin later recalled that this transfer probably saved his life: "From time to time, news would come about the Mac-Paps - where they were stationed, what action they were in, which of my comrades had been wounded or killed... Not only was life physically much easier as a medic than as a machine gunner, but the new orders must also surely have saved my life, as the Brigaders were always assigned to the most active battlefront. The mortality rate for Americans was at least 30 percent overall, and of the survivors, almost 80 percent were wounded, many more than once. If noncombatant volunteers, such as ambulance drivers, administrators, and medical personnel, were deducted from this computation, the percentage of our casualties at the front skyrocketed. The odds for survival were even lower for machine gunners, who were always prime targets. And heads of gun crews had the lowest survival rate of all."
The British Medical Aid Unit was sent to Teruel in December 1938. The soldiers had trouble with the weather with temperatures dropping to -20C at night. However, they were able to withstand continuous air attacks made by the Condor Legion and the Nationalists eventually abandoned the attempt to take Teruel by frontal assault.
In July 1938 the medical unit under Dr. Reginald Saxton was sent to the Ebro to support Republican forces. Juan Negrin, in an attempt to relieve the pressure on the Spanish capital, ordered an attack across the fast-flowing Ebro. General Juan Modesto, a member of the Communist Party (PCE), was placed in charge of the offensive. Over 80,000 Republican troops, including the 15th International Brigade and the British Battalion, began crossing the river in boats on 25th July. The men then moved forward towards Corbera and Gandesa.
On 26th July the Republican Army attempted to capture Hill 481, a key position at Gandesa. Hill 481 was well protected with barbed wire, trenches and bunkers. The Republicans suffered heavy casualties and after six days was forced to retreat to Hill 666 on the Sierra Pandols. It successfully defended the hill from a Nationalist offensive in September but once again large numbers were killed.
On 23rd September, 1938, Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced at the League of Nations in Geneva that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain. That night the 15th Brigade and the British Battalion moved back across the River Ebro and began their journey out of the country.
After arriving back in California he resumed his studies at the University of California. "The pacifists looked upon me as a sort of antediluvian adventurer, the Left saw me as a hero worthy of respect. The majority on campus were pro-Loyalist, and their positive response reflected those sympathies."
During the Second World War Rubin served with the US Army in the Pacific. As he pointed out in Spain's Cause Was Mine (1997): " We were pariahs to our government. When Brigaders volunteered for the armed forces in World War II, the official army line, at first, was that we were not to be sent outside of the continental limits, so that we would not have contact with European communists. This ruling was later successfully challenged. Even so, most of us were sent to the Pacific combat zone. But despite all of the government's fears about our politics, some of the Brigaders, because of their experience and skills, were needed for the war effort. Some, therefore, were sent across the Atlantic to assignments behind the German and Italian lines to work with the various resistance forces, which, ironically, were often communist or communist-led. More than six hundred American vets served in World War II, in addition to another three hundred more in the merchant marine. In all, about twenty-five Spanish vets gave their lives for their country in World War IL Many were decorated for bravery. Between sixty and seventy, including myself, were commissioned as officers."
After the war Hank Rubin was a restaurateur, free-lance writer, teacher, and wine critic.
Hank Rubin died in 2011.
It was April of 1937 and the Revolt of the Generals in Spain was eight months old. Spain, a small country at the bottom of Europe, had not been an important factor in international politics for many centuries. Another armed revolt there ordinarily would not have attracted much more than passing attention in the United States. Therefore, the press and radio devoted relatively little space or time to it at first.
But the extensive introduction of a large number of troops and massive amounts of armaments from Hitler and Mussolini to the side of Franco had made it a matter of international interest and concern. A Non-Intervention Pact pledging all member nations not to give military help to either side was passed by the League of Nations. That focused world attention, and media coverage expanded and became continuous. All of a sudden, the war began to seem as if it could spread outside Spain. Newscasters and writers were even speaking of the possibility of its becoming another world war.
A Gallup poll in 1937 showed that two-thirds of the people in the United States were unconcerned about the revolt. This reflected, among other things, a high point in isolationist feeling in our country. Of those who expressed any concern, twice as many were for the Republic as were for the rebels. (A year later a combination of the growing distaste for fascism in Europe and the popular support for the American volunteers saw the proportion of the population who were unconcerned drop from two-thirds to forty percent. Of those who took a stand, three-quarters were pro-Loyalists.)
The expressions of those who chose sides were very intense. The battle cry of the Madrilenos, No Pasaran ("They shall not pass"), became a common cry among the liberal/left student body, and the expression was almost a password among us. Indeed, it spread to the rest of the campus and was the rallying cry used at football games when our team was defending its goal line.
Inside Spain there was a bitter conflict between the government and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which, until the advent of the Republic had been the official religion of the country. Church officials and most of the priests totally sided with Franco, but the overwhelming majority of their congregants favored the legal government. This intense division between church and state had its strong reflection among Catholics in the United States. Here, as in Spain, many rank-and-file Catholics sided with the Republican government. But the Catholic leadership made a strong and vocal commitment to the revolt, giving it their blessing and pressuring President Roosevelt and the Congress to support the side of the insurgents, or, at the very least, to remain neutral.
While in some ways the war seemed very far away from the UCLA campus, meetings of both the pacifist and the antiwar movements were filled with heated discussions about it. We couldn't escape the questions raised by the Revolt of the Generals. Could the cause of the Republic be so righteous and the danger of fascism so real that the Spanish government merited support? Was the threat of communist control, of which the Republic was accused, so serious, so real, that armed rebellion was justified?
Heating our discussions were reports coming out of Europe of the action by the fascists against Jews and Catholics. In Germany, Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools and beaches. Catholics were arrested when they didn't incorporate pro-Nazi words into the celebration of the Mass. The Nuremberg Laws of i93S had stripped the Jews of their citizenship. The reactionary nature of both Hitler and Mussolini became some¬thing we talked and argued about. A German ship, the SS Bremen, had docked in New York flying the swastika, and in a dramatic move, a group of New York seamen had torn the flag down just as the ship was preparing to return home. This well-publicized action intensified anti-NAzi awareness and feelings in the country.
One of the strongest influences operating on me at the time was my relationship with my father. In my middle to late teens I was in a very active and very unpleasant separation struggle. Struggling for my independence, I hated him and wanted to get out of the house. I didn't want to have to accept anything from him or be dependent upon him. Yet, despite all of these antagonisms, I also had a strong sense of family and a deep attachment to my mother.
In so many respects, Dad was a very strong negative role model. His sense of family line and the Rubin name, most particularly his name, was almost an obsession. Since in his mind the succession was only through the male line, his focus was on my carrying on the family name. What he wanted most was for me to join him in his Los Angeles insurance agency, eventually taking over and perpetuating the firm name of Benjamin W Rubin and Associates making it "Benjamin W Rubin and Son." That I had set my scholastic goal on being a doctor was about as much as he could possibly stomach.
He was a lifelong Republican-an affiliation that held no attraction for me, since it represented standpattism, resistance to change, the hopelessness personified by President Hoover, and a heavy tilt toward the rich. But even if I had agreed with his politics in that moment of my active separation struggle, I would have been unable to accept his values. His conservatism and my antipathy to almost anything he stood for pushed me further along the path to the left on which I had already embarked. The way he laid down the law in the house, how he dictated what my mother might or might not do, his unwillingness to accept any of my struggles for identity, were part of what I hated (and still do).
I had nothing but disdain for his hypocrisy of decrying anti-Semitism and then in the next breath railing in a racist way against blacks. I believe that this was my first ideological conflict with him, back when I was only twelve or thirteen. A still-vivid memory is that first time I challenged this contradiction during a dinnertime conversation. He was telling; mother about a business meeting he had had that day at which one of the participants was blaming everything on the Jews. He described how mad he had been and how impotent he felt, because he was trying to sell the man some insurance and felt he could not speak out A moment later, Dad started to talk disparagingly about the blacks in much the same vein that his potential client had attacked Jews.
"Dad, why do you talk about how the Jews are talked about and then talk in the same way about the blacks?" I fearfully asked. "That doesn't make sense to me, and it doesn't seem fair."
"Henry, you don't understand. You just don't know what you are talking about. It's two different things. Blacks are different." Then he snapped, "Mind your manners. And don't you dare be disrespectful to me."
There was no arguing with him. His word in the house was law.
But my movement leftward was also motivated by my search for something to believe in, a system of ethics and morality and a way of life that I could honor. I knew that a society that suffered from wars, unemployment, and poverty as well as racial, religious, and sexual discrimination needed change. But just what that meant or how we might bring that change about was still unknown to me. The image of the United States as a melting pot that would boil down to form a single nation of Americans seemed right to me. The idea of Jewish separateness, centered in a unique country such as Palestine, was just unacceptable. While keenly aware of anti-Semitism in the United States, I did not know or, perhaps, want to know or want to believe how deep-rooted and vicious the practice of anti-Semitism was in other countries, how widespread it was, or even to what degree it existed in my own country.
During this period, the Communist party and its program was out in the open. It concerned itself with jobs, trade unions, care of the dispossessed, the elderly, and racism. Socialism was its eventual goal, but that seemed something to be achieved in the distant future, almost pie-in-the-sky. For the present the party turned its attention to the immediate problems stemming from the Depression, the problems that were the ones that seemed important to me. The program was so broad that by 1936 much of the presidential platform of the Communist party had been adopted by the Democratic party, and four years later some of its planks, such as Social Security, were also in the Republican party platform.
The communist slogan, "From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs," sounded more rational, more kind, and more like the philosophy of a society I could respect. The reality of the Soviet Union, the complex ideology of Marx, and the actual practices of Stalin hardly made a dent in my consciousness. All I knew was that the Communist party at that time was the leader in the struggle for change, for the things I wanted for our country. And I particularly appreciated the party position in support of the Spanish Republic. Most of all I needed some structure on which to hang my emerging political ideals. That exchange with my friend, and the whole incident of the night before, forced me to do some serious rethinking. The more I did, the more it seemed to me that if I sounded like a communist, then I probably should be one. Obviously the decision was not taken simply because I had spoken the party line on one issue, at one meeting. While I was vague on what socialism was in practice, the idea of the communist movement and what the party was fighting for beckoned me.
On my twenty-first birthday, in May, already committed to fight in, Spain, I decided to join the party. No one recruited me. In fact, I had to look up the address in the phone book and take a streetcar to the drab, downtown Los Angeles office that was the headquarters for both the Los Angeles County Communist Party and the Young Communist League.
After lunch, the second half of the training day frequently started with a meeting held in the village cathedral, which, with the recent separation between the church and the Republic, was no longer used for religious purposes. The topics covered during these assemblies were quite varied. Some were briefings on the progress at the front or on developments in the government, or what was happening on the international scene. Sometimes we had sessions on tactics. Often there were visiting notables, such as novelists Ernest Hemingway or Ralph Bates, both of whom had personal fascination for me because their writings were in some part the inspiration for my coming to Spain. And also because I wanted to emulate them.
Occasionally, an important lecture became ludicrous. I particularly remember one at which a general spoke passionately about commitment and morale and how they would enable us to withstand the enemy's attack, even when things looked their worst. But he spoke in some Slavic language that was then translated into German because the interpreter who knew Slavic wasn't fluent in English. Then it went from German into English via another translator, and after that into Spanish for our Spanish comrades by means of still another. To complicate matters, the translators argued among themselves about the correctness of some of the interpretations. Hearing the speech first in Slavic, then in German, then in English, and finally in Spanish removed all the passion I had sensed in the original. At first it was a fascinating process, and I listened with very focused attention as the general's words went from one language to another. But after a little while my mind began to wander, and I saw that the comrades around me were fidgeting as well. It took more than an hour for his twenty-minute oration to be translated. By the end it had become a comedy of errors, and even the speaker seemed worn down.
But these daily discussions and lectures helped to remind us all of our primary goal. We had come to defeat fascism. In the beginning of our training, the physical demands on our bodies had seemed very heavy, the heat oppressive, the repetition dulling. It was hard for us to remain eager and filled with zeal, and our purpose in being there sometimes got lost from the grind of training, physical exercise more strenuous than most of us were accustomed to, working in weather hotter that we were used to, and submitting to discipline in ways that were foreign. We could easily have lost our focus on saving the nation. These meetings reminded us that we were not just mercenary soldiers but highly motivated ones, who needed more than hardened bodies.
Nothing was greeted with more anticipation than mail call, but it was not an everyday occurrence. It took time for the mail to catch up with us, as troops moved frequently and sometimes we were reassigned to different units. Once in a while the truck carrying the mail broke down, got lost, or was blown up in a bombing raid. In combat positions, mail had an even greater emotional importance than it otherwise would. The more the stress, the more intense our need to maintain a connection with loved ones back home. At the front, the commissar or company clerk handing out the mail would try to catch and hold back all the letters addressed to those who had been killed or wounded. If their names were called, it would remind us all the more of our vulnerability. Nothing was more disappointing than to go to mail call when there wasn't something from home. I saw men who didn't get a letter sneak away and cry.
On my fourth and last hitch to the Huesca region above Zaragoza, only a few kilometers before my destination, the truck crested a hill and there, lying before us, was the broad valley in which Granen was located. Suddenly we heard the explosion of bombs and the firing of machine guns from planes. The driver immediately pulled over to the side of the road, jammed on his brakes, and killed the motor. We both jumped out, dashed off the road, ran to distance ourselves in case a plane opened fire on the truck, and threw ourselves down into the ditch that ran alongside the road. After a few minutes, we raised our heads and peeked out to see whether it was an enemy plane or one of ours. We had learned to head for shelter every time an explosion sounded, and only afterward to try to determine whose planes were overhead and whether they signaled immediate danger. The sound of any plane was a notice to be on guard, since there were so few on the government's side. To add to the uncertainty, once in a while our side fought with captured equipment, and the fascists often camouflaged theirs with red bands on the wings, the Republic's insignia.
An aerial attack in this sector was completely unexpected and startling, as there had been virtually no fighting in this area for months. Until a short time ago, our troops here had been composed of volunteers from the anarchist trade unions, and the atmosphere had been so peaceful, so unwarlike, that an arrangement had been made with the fascists for a daily truce so that the two sides could play soccer in no-man's-land.
On the plain ahead, about a mile from us, eight to ten planes flew in a circle over a small pueblo. In a sort of merry-go-round formation, each would dip down, drop a small bomb, fire a brief burst from its guns, and then rise up again into the circular pattern from which it had come. Then the next plane in the formation followed. When each of them had done its part in the attack, the aerial pack flew to an adjoining pueblo and repeated the maneuver. When they ran out of bombs, they repeated these attacks using only their machine guns. It was almost as if they were going from house to house doing Halloween pranks. After they had finished terrorizing the countryside, they turned tail and went back home in regular V formation. In later years, we realized that the German planes and pilots had been perfecting the blitzkrieg, the terror attack that they would use with such devastating effect in World War II.
Even though I could see that the planes were almost a mile away and heading generally away from us, my body became rigid, the tenseness of fear that came whenever their planes were bombing or strafing in the immediate vicinity. It was almost as if my autonomic nervous system could not believe what my brain was processing about their distance from us.
When the planes had disappeared into the distance, we got back in the truck and started off again. Soon I was let off in the small main plaza of the little village of Granen with my two sacks of prized laboratory equipment. Granen was a poor, sleepy little agricultural town whose most important structures were the church and the home of the rich landowner. Since both the clergy and the landlord had fled at the start of the war, the church was being used as a school, and our hospital was located in the landowner's home, which was just at the edge of town. Originally, the hospital had been in a dilapidated farmhouse, but now it was in an elegant and relatively grandiose structure standing in stark contrast to the rest of the small village. The interior was typical of the way the rich in the small villages had displayed their wealth-mosaic tile on the floor, richly paneled walls, stained-glass windows. The huge two-storied kitchen with a big wood-burning stove was at the back, dwarfing the rest of the rooms. Curiously, although the rest of the house had been stripped bare before our arrival, there were still several oil paintings hanging on the walls.
From time to time, news would come about the Mac-Pap - where they were stationed, what action they were in, which of my comrades had been wounded or killed. I wondered whether my position as head of a machine gun squad would still be open for me. One day, after a little more than a month, to my utter surprise, papers came through officially transferring me out of my machine gun company, out of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, and assigning me permanently to the Servicio Sanitario (Medical Service) of the 35th Division, to which our hospital was attached. I finished my year and a half of service in the hospitals of the 35th. I had not made application for this change, had not even considered that my work here was other than temporary.
Not only was life physically much easier as a medic than as a machine gunner, but the new orders must also surely have saved my life, as the Brigaders were always assigned to the most active battlefront. The mortality rate for Americans was at least 30 percent overall, and of the survivors, almost 80 percent were wounded, many more than once. If noncombatant volunteers, such as ambulance drivers, administrators, and medical personnel, were deducted from this computation, the percentage of our casualties at the front skyrocketed. The odds for survival were even lower for machine gunners, who were always prime targets. And heads of gun crews had the lowest survival rate of all.
Looking back, I can't regret my transfer, since the odds for my surviving on the front were pretty slim. But at that time I had many qualms, feeling that I was not doing my share, that this was not what I had volunteered to do. So I argued with myself, wondering whether to demand a return to my unit, whether the job I was doing was important enough to justify being out of combat. All the time I was there I never quite put away the tremor of guilt that I wasn't doing enough, the feeling that I wasn't doing my share of the good fight. I broached the idea of my return to combat several times, but the doctors I was working with laughed at the idea or just turned down my request, saying that they needed me where I was, that they had work for me to do that would help the functioning of the hospital.
The transfusionist for our Granen hospital was Dr. Reginald (Reggie) Saxton from England, who was also my superior in the lab. One of the first of the English doctors to arrive, he had first worked on the Aragon front. Slim, tall, blond, and soft-spoken, he taught me much of what I needed to know in the lab and helped in the accumulation of more and better equipment. Later, our little lab was located at the division's base hospital. It had become less primitive over the months and, with his help, I grew in the range of diagnostic tests I could do.
Our lab became increasingly an integral part of our medical service. Soon I was not alone. My first co-worker was an Italian, Ricardo, who came to Spain via the Pasteur Institute in Paris. From under his well-trimmed black beard, which hid his acne-scarred face, he projected a quiet voice and a quick temper. He was a tower of strength, doing both laboratory work and blood transfusions. Ricardo also arranged for the transformation of a large Bedford (British Ford) evacuation ambulance. Its structure had been practically destroyed in a bombing attack, but its engine and chassis were in excellent condition. He oversaw its conversion into a mobile laboratory called an autochir. During the first weeks with us, Ricardo spent most of his time at the garage supervising the makeover. When the autochir finally arrived, it had a small oven, an autoclave for sterilizing, an incubator for growing cultures, and even more important, a butane-fed refrigerator that allowed us to store blood ampoules. It had enough racks, drawers, and cabinets for the limited extra equipment we had been able to scrounge, plus room for future acquisitions. This new prize meant that we then had to requisition much duplicate equipment, so that when we went up front the base laboratory could remain functioning.
In December of 1938, the Republican army headquarters received an intelligence report of an impending large-scale enemy attack on the Guadalajara sector that, if successful, would open the way for Franco to realize his prime goal of seizing Madrid. To divert this action, our high command quickly planned an assault of their own far to the north, with the idea of drawing rebel troops and materiel as far away from Madrid as possible. The focus of our attack was to capture Teruel, the capital of the bleak, rocky province of Aragon.
Action started on December 8 with heavy snow falling. Teruel, in a mountainous region at an altitude of over three thousand feet, was reputed to be the coldest city of the country, and that winter didn't jeopardize its reputation. By New Year's day it was minus i8 degrees F. with winds blowing as high as fifty miles per hour, producing the lowest recorded temperatures of the century. The wind swirled the heavy snowfall so ferociously that at times there was near zero visibility.
The success of the Republican forces in the Teruel operation was due to a combination of surprise, excellent planning, superior troop execution, and the fact that the cold and snow prevented the Franco forces from bringing up their reinforcements quickly or allowing their planes to fly. It was a harsh and bloody operation. The frozen ground defied our attempts to dig in and create adequate defensive positions. Both sides sent patrols out at dawn to cut down telephone poles, which became the prime source of firewood. Coffee froze in cups and blankets were often hard as boards. Many died from exposure.
Six hundred of our supply trucks coming from Valencia were stalled outside of Teruel, unable to enter the city because of the cold and snow. Nevertheless, because we were the attackers, most of our initial supplies were in place, and surprise was on our side. So we not only took the city but made major advances as well. But when the weather moderated, the rebels were able to bring in their heavy artillery and reinforcements, and their planes began to fly sorties. All too soon they dominated the sky, and their big guns could fire with impunity.
By the end of this operation, about fifty thousand enemy troops and more than sixty thousand government soldiers had fallen. As Franco's forces established their superiority in materiel and numbers, they mounted successful counterattacks. Gradually, the Republican troops were forced to retreat to avoid encirclement. It wasn't long before the city was lost once again to the fascists. But the action had achieved its goal of saving Madrid - a costly and bitter victory, as the capital was lost forever a year later.
At the beginning of the war, the International Brigades had acted as a shield against the onslaught of the enemy. Teruel had been the first big Republican victory without us, with the Brigades remaining in reserve positions. The action by the Republican army at Teruel, without the Internationals, proved that it had finally grown from unformed, although heroic, militia units into a disciplined and effective force.
We were pariahs to our government. When Brigaders volunteered for the armed forces in World War II, the official army line, at first, was that we were not to be sent outside of the continental limits, so that we would not have contact with European communists. This ruling was later successfully challenged. Even so, most of us were sent to the Pacific combat zone. But despite all of the government's fears about our politics, some of the Brigaders, because of their experience and skills, were needed for the war effort. Some, therefore, were sent across the Atlantic to assignments behind the German and Italian lines to work with the various resistance forces, which, ironically, were often communist or communist-led.
More than six hundred American vets served in World War II, in addition to another three hundred more in the merchant marine. In all, about twenty-five Spanish vets gave their lives for their country in World War IL Many were decorated for bravery. Between sixty and seventy, including myself, were commissioned as officers. As a side note, many Spaniards-in-exile volunteered to fight with the French, and when the tanks of the Free French entered Paris for its liberation from the Germans, many were manned by Spanish personnel, and three tank turrets proudly carried the names of Spanish battles-Madrid, Teruel, or Jarama-painted on their sides.
In New York, some of the returned vets formed the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which had become the blanket name for all of us who had served in Spain, no matter in which battalion or whether in combat or not. Then posts were formed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and elsewhere. It was not just a self-help organization or a vehicle to remind the world and ourselves that we were heroes. Yes, we helped fellow vets and made people remember the war. Yes, we sent help to those Spaniards who had fled across the border into France, and we helped, as best we could, those continuing the fight against Franco. But at all times, it has been a political organization-raising the banner against fascism, supporting our country in its war against fascism, and later helping the people of Central America, who were suffering under their own dictatorships.
Of the roughly thirty-three hundred Americans who went to Spain, about eight hundred are known to have died. Over a hundred prisoners of war were not repatriated until months after the end of fighting. The frightening mortality figures that Rep had given me that April noon at UCLA were much worse than the reality. Still, of those who had been combatants and survived, a majority had been wounded at least once.
In Spain, I had lost track of that mixed group of five with whom I had boarded the bus in Los Angeles. But as I was leaving the country, I found out that Hera and Mark had been killed in action. John was missing in action and was never found, and Al had lost a leg and had been sent home. My friend Sig, too, had died on the battlefield. My liver had saved my life. I was the only physically unscarred survivor of our Los Angeles cohort.
We who came back were still young in years, but both bodies and minds had lost their youthful innocence. There was no severance pay, other than a Greyhound bus ticket back to our homes and twenty-five dollars for food along the way. The Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade raised money for medical care for those of us needing extended treatment.