Last Lincoln Brigade member receives unlikely tribute from US Sen John McCain
Berg passed away last month at the impressive age of 100.
McCain, a rabid anti-Communist and anti-union conservative, admitted in his New York Times piece this week that he doesn't believe “in most of the things that Mr. Berg did,” but that he could not deny admiring the 3,000 mostly American volunteers who fought in Spain between 1937 and 1938, in what he described as a “doomed cause".
Born in California in 1915, Berg left a dishwashing job to travel to Spain in 1937, taking inspiration from a poster asking for help to support the anti-fascist cause.
He took a bus to New York, then a boat to France, entering Spain via the Pyrenees in 1938.
The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, when General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists, backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, fought against the Republicans, who were supported by the Soviet Union.
According to brigade archives, Berg served in field artillery and anti-aircraft units - and impressively laid communication lines during the Battle of the Ebro River, the site of tens of thousands casualties.
A fascist airplane bombing in Valencia left Berg with shrapnel in his liver.
While in a Spanish hospital, he became a member of the Communist Party of the United States, of which he was still an active member as of at least 2014, according to an interview with People’s World conducted that year.
Franco won the Civil War in 1939, putting in place a dictatorship that remained intact until his death in 1975.
Berg left Spain shortly after their defeat, served in the Pacific theater for the US military during World War II, and then returned to California to battle anti-union fascists within the US government and companies as an organizer for the United Farm Workers union.
Berg was harassed by the FBI during the anti-Communist McCarthy inquisitions of the 1950s, according to the brigade archive.
McCain connected with Berg due to his fondness for the writer Ernest Hemingway, who immortalized the young American soldier Robert Jordan fighting in Spain in his epic book, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
“He didn’t need to know for whom the bell tolls,” McCain wrote of Berg. “He knew it tolled for him. And I salute him. Rest in peace.”
The comments were unexpected from McCain, who spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton", where attempts were made to re-educate him to communism.