31 Julio Merriman Assigns No. 1, 2, 3. You don’t want to be on this list.

July 31, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for July 31, 1937

Back from the Mac-Pap night training, Merriman has time to deal with political issues in the Brigade.   The Mac-Paps assemble in the church for speeches by John Miller, of the CPUSA, and Joe Lash, of the American Students Union.  Joe Dallet was not impressed with the speech.   In a session of criticism and explaining party policy, Joe Dallet is discussed in the sense of repatriation of CP Party Cadres who should be saved.  In the party meeting, Bob Thompson is discussed in this regard as is Haywood and Merriman.   Joe Dallet must have had the strongest opinions on sending back the weakest comrades.  Merriman hoped that Dallet would point the finger at Harry Haywood but Haywood was in the room and Dallet did not speak up.  Merriman himself was going to suggest Bob Thompson to be sent home, but he chickened out.  This clearing the decks must have been an important opportunity to have the leadership of the brigade allow weak military leaders to be sent home without losing face (i.e. saving the best cadres).   In any case, Haywood must have known that he was on the chopping block (as he himself said in his memoir) and while returning home would have been desirable from a self-preservation point of view, it would also be considered a disgrace back in the US.   The meeting also gives mention about Prieto’s desire that all units have at least 25% Spanish troops in them.   The Americans balk at this since they fought hard to get an English only speaking brigade.  But after this point, the Brigade would have one Spanish Battalion to balance the demographics.

Mirko Markovics is back from Brunete after having stood up to Hans Klaus and having been removed from command.  Markovics indicts Cunningham for “poor work”.  Several of the Americans, including Haywood and Garland, had run ins with Jock Cunningham.  Mirkovics tells about missing direction by several kilometers at the front.  Nelson also spoke about trying to supply Americans on the front by two burros and getting misdirected so that they walked right into fascist lines.  He has to shoot the burro to keep it from defecting to the Fascist troops.  The burro was carrying ammunition and a bag of shoes for the Americans.¹

After some laughs and story telling,  Merriman and the staff had a late night poker session.  Merriman mentions “Ruby” in this section and Steve Nelson mentioned another name in his memoir, “The Volunteers”¹, Ruby Ryant who was the head of the Machine Gun Company.   It is quite possible that the “Ruby” who was previously identified in the diary could have been Rubin Ryant.  Ryant was on the machine guns at Brunete and then became Adjutant to Sid Levine about this time.  By Quinto, in a month’s time, Ryant would be commissar in the Machine Gun Company with Manny Lanser as the Company Commander.  About this time as well, a young recruit named Milt Wolff moved up from being an ammunition carrier to being section leader in Lanser’s Machine Gun Company.²  Milt Wolff recollected poorly this reassignment in the tapes made for Landis’ book.³   Wolff would end the war as Commander of the Lincoln Battalion.

In the notes at the end of the month, Merriman writes down his top 3 on the “Hall of Shame”.   Number 1 is George Brodsky who Merriman calls a “bad man”.  Number 2 is Harry Haywood for weakness in leadership as discussed earlier in the diary.  Number three is Dave Mates who is a real disappointment to Merriman.  Why he is going home “shamed – disgraced” is never discussed.  Merriman also mentions that Walter Garland would be going back home.  Garland “deserted to the front” rather than staying in training at Pozo Rubio where he was in June.

We have not heard much of Marion Merriman in recent pages, since she is working with Bill Lawrence and Ed Bender at the American Cadres Service in Albacete.  Merriman notes that they will go to the American Hospital at Villa Paz which by this time must have been overflowing with injured and dying from the Battle of Brunete.  Phil Bard picked them up.  Bard was the American Base Commissar at Albacete and may have been at Villa Paz to come get the Base Staff.

Finally, in some reassignments, Merriman requested Pierre Lamotte to come to Tarazona.   Merriman really liked Lamotte and found him a “fine fellow” since late January.  Lamotte continually bounced around the rear until he was arrested and accused of stealing.  He would return to the US in 1938.

In a clarification of Merriman’s hand, we now see that the “Rolphe or Robbie” on the previous pages is indeed John Quigley Robinson, who will become the Commissar of the Lincoln Battalion.  Robinson will take the Seaman’s Machine Gun Company with him.  Merriman must have been thrilled to get rid of Seaman Oliver and his problems.  Kevin Buyers sent along an interesting photo from the Paul Burns photo collection which shows unnamed American seamen.  Matt White (private communication) believes that the man front right is Barney Spaulding and that the man back right may be Virgil Morris.

American Seamen

American Seamen at Jarama, 1937. From the Paul Burns Photo Collection, Tamiment Library, NYU

_____________________________

¹ Steve Nelson, The Volunteers, ibid, p. 106.

² Landis, The Abraham Lincoln Brigade, ibid., pg 216 and 247.

³ Milton Wolff to Art Landis, The Art Landis Audio Collection, ALBA AUDIO 66, Tamiment Library, NYU.