Sunday, January 20, 2008

Milton Wolffe 5

the last installment I'll post from the original 121 minute interview (all told in the 5 parts there were about 75 minutes posted)
video from world war II oral history archives
Part 5 of obituary by Peter Carroll
But Wolff saw himself first as a soldier and wanted to participate in the military defeat of fascism. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, expecting to serve as an infantryman in battle and to bring his military experience to speed the victory. Those illusions soon confronted a military establishment that saw Spanish Civil War veterans as "premature anti-fascists" and so considered them unacceptable for combat assignments. To his growing frustration, the Army dropped Wolff from Officer Candidate School and gave him non- combatant assignments. While pulling strings to get a transfer, Wolff picked an assignment that took him to Burma where he saw action under the General Joseph Stillwell. Soon afterward, the OSS summoned Wolff to Italy, where in joined other Lincoln veterans he had earlier recruited such as Irving Goff, Vincent Lossowski, and Irving Fajans in establishing intelligence networks among the Communist partisans. One of Wolff's proudest achievements was graduating from parachute school, but he was on the ground when he was sent into southern France on a secret mission that was never consummated. However, while there he met members of the Spanish resistance planning to invade Spain. Wolff's efforts to bring them OSS assistance resulted in his hasty recall and a transfer back to the United States. In the post-World War II climate, Wolff and other Lincoln vets continued to work for Spanish democracy, tirelessly lobbying the State Department to break relations with Franco Spain, and to gain assistance for Spanish refugees and prisoners of the Franco regime. At a time when the U.S. government was creating an anti-Communist alliance that included Franco Spain, however, Wolff's leadership position alarmed the FBI, which kept him under constant surveillance. When the Department of Justice classified the Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade as a subversive organization in 1947 and the McCarran Act of 1950 obliged the veterans to register with the government, Wolff emerged as the public face of the VALB. He and Moe Fishman presided over the defense of the veterans before the Subversive Activities Control Board in hearings during 1954 and carried the subsequent appeals through the federal courts. During this period, Wolff also worked for the embattled Civil Rights Congress, a left-wing organization that defended African Americans accused on dubious grounds of capital crimes. As the anti-Communist crusade abated in the 1960s, Wolff remained active in the U.S. Committee for a Democratic Spain, an organization that lobbied against U.S. treaties with the Franco regime, assisted the families of Franco's political prisoners, and advocated for political reform. Wolff also led the revitalized VALB in demonstrations against the Vietnam War. At one point, he wrote a personal letter to Ho Chi Minh offering the services of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He also advocated ending the trade embargo with Cuba and helped provide medical aid to a children's hospital in Havana. During the 1980s, Wolff and other veterans instituted a campaign to send ambulances to Nicaragua, an echo of U.S. domestic support for the Spanish Republic fifty years earlier. Invited frequently to return to Spain, Wolff was a beloved figure among Spaniards. In a recent visit, he won cheers when he reminded them that if they got into trouble in the future, "give me a call." As he reached his later years, Wolff devoted more time to painting and writing his memoirs in fictional form. He had recently finished a draft of a third volume, dealing with his experiences in World War II. Through it all, Milton Wolff saw himself as a man of action. For all of his thought and intellect, he knew how to make decisions and get things done. Sometimes, his impulses led to frustrating mistakes, as when he joined the Army in expectations of organizing an invasion of Spain and found himself exiled as a potential subversive. But he never doubted the choice he made to fight in Spain. In 2005, nearly seventy years after he'd swum the river waters, he stood at the rail of a boat on the Ebro and paused for a long moment of silence. Then he evoked the men who had died there beside him-"I call them my dead," he said-and dropped a bundle of red carnations into the water. Mr. Wolff is survived by his daughter, Susan Wallis of Vermont; his son, Peter, of Connecticut; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Mr. Wolff said he was turned down for combat duty in World War II because of concerns about his leftist politics. He later fought successfully against the “subversive” label pinned on the Lincoln veterans for decades. He personally delivered 20 ambulances to the Nicaraguan government when the Reagan administration was supporting rebels against it. One of his battles after the civil war was leading his veterans to urge the Brooklyn Dodgers to integrate. “The guys were all Dodgers fans,” he said. “It was a way to carry on the struggle.

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