U.S. veterans of Spanish Civil War to gather near Madrid
Stars and Stripes October 30, 2004
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — They came to Spain from all across America, volunteering to fight fascism.
More than 67 years later, three veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade are returning to the Spanish Civil War battlegrounds they fought on to remember and share their experiences.
Veterans and historians will gather in a town outside Madrid next week to talk about the civil war and recognize the thousands of men who joined the Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1938 and fought as part of the International Brigade.
Gilbert Wells, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in Portugal, didn’t fight in the war but has taken an interest in the famous brigade and plans to attend the symposium in Rivas-Vaciamadrid Nov. 4-8.
“These guys who went there and died are still unmourned,” said Wells, an active member of American Legion Portugal Post 1.
About 2,800 Americans fought against Gen. Francisco Franco’s military rebellion, which was boosted by troops sent by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
Americans — including seamen, steelworkers, teachers and laborers — crossed the Pyrenees to join men from more than four-dozen countries. Many were members of the Communist Party.
The Lincoln Brigade actually was one of several American brigades that fell under the International Brigade, which included soldiers from such countries as Britain, Ireland and Canada.
The American brigades formed the first racially integrated U.S. military unit and later were the first to be led by a black commander.
Nearly one-third of the Americans died. Most are buried where they fell.
Although Ernest Hemingway’s stories about the brigade would make the soldiers heroes to many in America, the Spanish Republic soldiers and the International Brigade would be no match for the rebellion’s troops.
In 1938, the International Brigade was disbanded and Madrid fell in 1939 to Franco’s forces.
The American veterans who survived got little credit for what they did. The U.S. government prohibited travel to Spain during the war and discouraged joining the fight.
Many of their remains never have been found or identified, but a group now is going through the tedious process of trying to identify those unaccounted for during the war.
On Friday, Milton Wolff, Clarence Kailin and Moe Fishman of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade will join a group of historians for a roundtable discussion at the Rivas-Vaciamadrid Cultural Center, where they will talk about the Battle of Jarama. Many Americans died in the battle.
It will be an opportunity for those listening to get insight into the war from the few veterans who are still alive.
Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales and the Rivas Vaciamadrid Town Council are sponsoring the event, which will include an exhibit: “Volunteers for Liberty: The International Brigades.”
The exhibit will be displayed from Nov. 4-14.