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William Aalto
Bill Aalto.jpg
William Aalto
Nickname Bill
Born 30 July 1915
Died 11 June 1958
Place of birth Bronx, New York City, United States
Place of death New York City, United States
Allegiance Flag of Spain (1931–1939).svg Spain
US flag 48 stars.svg United States
Service/branch Flag of the International Brigades International Brigades
United States United States Army
Years of service 1937 - 1938, 1941 - 1943
Rank Lieutenant, Army-USA-OR-08a First Sergeant
Unit Abraham Lincoln Battalion, Office of Strategic Services
Battles/wars Spanish Civil War, World War II

William Eric Aalto was born in the United States. He was a member of the communist party, and he joined the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, which was a unit that volunteered to fight during the Spanish Civil War for the Popular Front.

Eatly lifeEdit

William Eric Aalto, of Finnish extraction, was born in the Bronx, New York on 30 July 1915. His mother, a militant member of the Finnish Communist Party, had fled to the United States due to her radical political beliefs. She enrolled in the local communist party, educating her son with Marxist ideology. After leaving school, he worked as a truck driver and was a member of the Young Communist League.[1]

Spanish Civil WarEdit

Aalto arrived in Spain on 17 February 1937,[2] joining the other International Brigades at Albacete. In March 1937 he joined the Spanish Communist Party. During the war, he volunteered for dangerous guerrilla operations which frequently required him to work behind enemy lines for up to weeks at a time. Working with International brigaders, Alex Kunslich and Irving Goff, Aalto was trained by Soviet instructors in the use of pressure-sensitive explosives to destroy railroad tracks, bridges and power lines. One of their objectives was the destruction of the main supply bridge spanning the Albarracín River. The operation may have been the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.[3]

At the end of 1937, Aalto took part in the Battle of Teruel, working behind enemy lines again with Kunslich, Goff and Spanish guerrillas.[4]

On 23 May 1938, Aalto, now a lieutenant, led the successful amphibious operation at Carchuna, Motril on the southern coast of Spain, which resulted in the rescue of 300 Republican prisoners held in the Fort of Carchuna. This raid constitutes the only operation of its kind ever undertaken by the Spanish army.[5]

In September 1938, with a Republican defeat in sight, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion was withdrawn from the front line and shortly afterwards disbanded. William Aalto returned to the United States.

During his time in Spain, Aalto wrote: "A soldier who is politically conscious that he is right and who has a feeling of community with his society... will do his job well.".[6]

Second World WarEdit

In 1941, Aalto's former comrade-in-arms, Irving Goff, recommended him for recruitment to the Office of Strategic Services. At this time, Aalto confessed to Goff that he was a homosexual. Goff and other OSS Lincoln veterans reported the fact to the organization's head, General William Donovan, requesting for him to be removed from their team.[7]

In 1942, Aalto was transferred to a training camp at Camp Ritchie, Maryland.[8] In September 1943, while training soldiers in demolition work, Aalto saw someone drop a live grenade and lunged for it. Before he could throw it away, the bomb exploded, severing his arm at the wrist.[9]

Post-WarEdit

With the help of his disability pension and the G.I. Bill, he returned to further his education, studying poetry at Columbian University. At this time, he published several pieces of his writings in the New Masses.[9] After his betrayal by the OSS Lincoln veterans, Aalto drifted away from contact with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.[8]

Aalto then travelled to Europe, where he met the poet W.H. Auden. Though sharing the company of other poets, Aalto now wrote little and tended towards alcoholism, frequently becoming violent.[9] Toward the end of his life, he was poet James Schuyler's lover, and features in the latter's poem Dining Out with Doug and Frank.[10]

William Aalto died of leukemia in June 1958, and was buried in Long Island National Cemetery.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Romerstein, Herbert. Heroic Victims: Stalin's Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War. p. 87.
  2. Romerstein, Herbert. Heroic Victims: Stalin's Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War . p. 87.
  3. Carroll, Peter N. The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Stanford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8047-2277-3. p. 167
  4. Carroll, op. cit., p. 167
  5. Graham, Helen The Spanish Civil War: a Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-280377-1. p. 53
  6. Carroll, op. cit., p. 118
  7. Carroll, op. cit., p. 254-57
  8. 8.0 8.1 Graham, Heather. Pers. comm.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Carroll, op. cit., p. 256
  10. [1]

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