Republican Senator John McCain’s tribute to the last Spanish Civil War veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and Communist, Delmer Berg, was as sweet as it was a surprise.
McCain didn’t really need to qualify his NY Times column by explaining he didn’t agree with Berg’s politics. Berg recently died at the age of 100. I kind of assumed it since Berg had proudly admitted he was a life-long Red and would be Red until his last breath.
The Senator wrote, “I have felt that way since I was boy of 12, reading Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in my father’s study. It is my favorite novel, and its hero, Robert Jordan, the Midwestern teacher who fought and died in Spain, became my favorite literary hero.”
Perhaps, as I suggested to a friend at a party last night, that McCain’s tribute to an anti-fascist fighter was meant to be more than a just a tribute to a single brave man.
The men and women from around the world who volunteered to fight in Spain against Franco were called premature anti-fascists by the anti-communist witch hunters of the McCarthy era.
Now, Fascism seems to be a topic of discussion again. I can think of several running for President.
I can recall seeing the movie version of For Whom the Bell Tolls at the Park Theater, which was on 31st and West Diamond Street in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philadelphia. Although the movie came out in 1943, I must have seen it in 1955 or ’56. I was seven or eight.
The movie starred Gary Cooper as Robert Jordan.
As a kid, with a father who I knew fought in the Spanish Civil War as a Lincoln, I was convinced that the Robert Jordan on the screen was my dad.
The evidence was clear: Both the brave handsome character that Gary Cooper played and my dad were named “Robert.” What other evidence did anyone need?
A few years later our family was living in Los Angeles. I was best friends with Mike Goff.
Mike’s dad, Irv Goff, was also a Spanish Civil War veteran. Mike claimed that Hemingway had known his dad and had based Robert Jordan on Irv.
We argued about this. By that time I had met quite a few Lincoln vets who loved to tell their stories and they all claimed they had met Hemingway. There were as many Lincoln vets who claimed to have met Hemingway as there are bartenders in Havana who told me that their bar was Hemingway’s favorite. That they had invented the Daiquiri at Hemingway’s personal request.
But Mike Goff may have been more right than I thought.
It turns out that Irv Goff had fought in Spain behind enemy lines, blowing up bridges and roads, much like Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls.
This past week has been an interesting one, what with the pictures of Obama in front of the giant image of Che Guevara in Havana and John McCain’s NY Times tribute to a communist veteran of the Lincoln Brigade.
“Your dad fought in Spain?” my friend at the party, who I have known for many years, asked while we discussed the McCain column.
My dad was Robert Jordan.