Manus O’Riordan, IBMT Ireland Secretary, gives his thoughts on the restoration of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Memorial in San Francisco, the only national monument commemorating Spanish Civil War volunteers in the US. He recounts the dedication ceremony in March 2008 and his memories of the Lincoln Brigade veterans. Originally posted on the FFALB Google Group.
Abraham Lincoln Brigade Monument located on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront.
On 3 May, Nancy Wallach and myself were due to be in San Francisco, on parade with photos of our respective Brigadista fathers, Hy Wallach and Micheál O'Riordan, and with photos of other Brigadistas being carried by their children or grandchildren, or by other relatives.
The occasion would have been the inauguration of that city's restored Lincoln Brigade Memorial. But the coronavirus lock-down necessitated the postponement of that event.
The restoration of the Memorial brings to mind the many emotions previously experienced by me on being present at its initial dedication on 30 March 2008, together with my father's banner of the Connolly Column – XV International Brigade. The invitation to attend the event had come from Lincoln Brigadista Moe Fishman in June 2007. I had first met Moe in Barcelona in 1988 at the unveiling of the 'David and Goliath' International Brigade memorial, and I met him again in Madrid at the 2001 'Homenaje a las Brigadas Internacionales'. Moe and his partner Georgia Weaver had visited us in Dublin in 2004, proceeding afterwards to Waterford, where Moe joined with my father and Brigadista Jack James Larkin Jones in unveiling the International Brigade Memorial in that city. Sadly, however, Moe passed away in August 2007.
Nor was there to be any San Francisco reunion with Brigadista Milt Wolff, whom I had met in Madrid at the 1996 'Homenaje a las Brigadas Internacionales', and had been pleasantly surprised on the Jarama battlefield to hear over the public address system the voice of our then 18 year old son Neil, and then see him on the platform, as he translated Milt's address into Spanish. Sadly, Milt passed away in January 2008, but I was privileged to speak at his memorial meeting in San Francisco, on March 29, 2008. There was, however, a happy reunion with Brigadista David Smith, who had served with the James Connolly Section of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion at Jarama in 1937, which is where I first met him in 1996. My Dad and myself were delighted when David subsequently visited us in Dublin in 2001.
The emotional high point of that day in San Francisco had been the address by Brigadista Abe Osheroff, whom I had also met in Spain in 1996. Just one week later, he had passed on, as had Brigadista Abe Smorodin, whom I had seen fall at the memorial as the dedication ceremony came to a close. Three months later, David Smith also passed on. It was if all three had willed themselves to at least stay alive for that San Francisco ceremony.
The part of Abe Osheroff's speech that had particularly, but unexpectedly, ambushed me with emotion was the following: ‘What the hell are monuments all about?… I'll tell you what it's all about for me. Some day in the not too distant future, some guy will be walking through here with a couple of his adolescent kids, and one of the kids will say, “Dad, what's that?” And this Dad may know the answer.’
The tears flowed because I was immediately hit by the memory of when I had first met and last talked with Abe in Madrid. My own Vet father had been accompanied to that 1996 Spanish homenaje, not only by my sister and myself, but also by my wife and all three of our children – Jess, Neil and Luke. Abe himself was accompanied by his daughter Sara and her young son Kasseem who, in turn, began to play with my then eight year old youngest child Luke. Abe made a point of emphasising to me how important it had been to bring the kids to such a gathering of International Brigaders. And so, in another sense, vets will also be immortalised through such memories recalled by their own grandchildren.
In two weeks time, Sunday 17 May, the eve of my Brigadista father's fourteenth anniversary, I had also been due to be with Nancy in New York for another International Brigades commemoration – the Annual Gala of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive. The coronavirus lock-down has, of course, also forced the cancellation of that gathering. Instead, ALBA will be putting an exciting online event live on Facebook. And for that event, under the heading of ‘Why I Joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade’, Nancy has assembled a number of her fellow Brigadista children to read out letters from their fathers. Sara Osheroff will be reading from her father, Abe Osheroff. Sara has also written to Nancy: ‘Very cool to hear that your partner was on that Spain trip with us. I remember his son very well. Kasseem was very happy to find a kindred spirit his age (8) to play with.’
Tune into the ALBA Annual Gala by visiting their Facebook page on 17 May, 10pm (BST).
Posted on 6 May 2020.