Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial Day Salute to a CPUSA Hero of The Spanish Civil War and WWII

by Norman Markowitz

Today is Memorial Day and I want to celebrate a man that most Americans would consider an American war hero. Except they never heard of him, because he was n American Communist. More importantly, they don't know the shameful act that the Pentagon committed againsthim.

If he was a Polish or Hungarian anti-Communist, movies would probably have been made about him in the cold war era.

But I will can the bitterness because his story is important(I remember it as best I can, since it struck me at the time and I know about him primarily through word of mouth from Comrades now deceased and very sketchy secondary sources

His name was Robert Thompson and he was born in Oregon in 1915. As a young Communist he fought in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, where he commanded troops in combat. During WWII he won the army's Distinguished Service Cross and was cited for "extraodinary heroism" in combat in the fierce battle between American and Japanese troops in New Guinea. After WWII, as leader of the Communist Party of New York state, he was indicted under the Smith, went underground and was eventually captured and imprisoned.

Now things get very ugly. While in federal prison he as attacked with a metal pipe and had his skull fractured by a Croatian fascist also in detention and facing extradition to Yugoslavia as a war criminal. This fascist apparently thought that we would be rewarded by the U.S. government if he murdered an American Communist.

Thompson survived but I was told that he never fully recovered from these injuries. He died in 1966, only to suffer a final indignity when the Pentagon refused his family's request that he be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, which is open to all U.S. Veterans, war
heroes or not. The story got into the press(this after all was 1966) and was for many a scandal and a disgrace. However,I remember one ugly right-wing columnist for the New York Daily News writing that Thompson had an "advantage" over other soldiers in winning his medals because of his "experience" in combat in the Spanish Civil War.

But there is another reference which I found by surfing the web. It was from the liberal New York Post columnist, Murray Kempton, in the days before Rupe Murdoch took over the Post, then the only liberal labor newspaper in New York, and made it into the comical rightwing tabloid it has been since the 1970s, "so," Kempton wrote, "an American who was brave has been disposed of by Americans who were cowards of the least excusable sort, cowards who had very little to fear. Yesterday the army called Robert Thompson's widow and said it would send his ashes wherever she wished. Wherever those ashes go, the glory of America goes with them."

Although I, like Robert Thompson I am sure, believe that it is much better to work for peace than fight in wars and live for your class and people than die for your country, I would say a secular Amen to that.

If readers of the blog either knew or heard about Robert Thompson I would welcome their responses.