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William Eric Aalto

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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives

799 Broadway Suite 227

New York City, New York 10003

United States

Company Description

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting public awareness, research, and discussion about the Spanish Civil War. ... more

Find other employees at this company (18)

Background Information

Affiliations

Member
Bronx Young Communist League

Web References (4 Total References)


Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spanish Civil War History and Education: Browse

www.alba-valb.org [cached]

William Aalto

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.


Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spanish Civil War History and Education: William Aalto

alba.tinyboxerdev.com [cached]

William Aalto

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William Aalto
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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.
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.
Aalto arrived in Spain on 17 February 1937, 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.
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At the end of 1937, Aalto took part in the Battle of Teruel, working behind enemy lines again with Kunslich, Goff and Spanish guerrillas.
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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.
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.".
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In 1942, Aalto was transferred to a training camp at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. 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.
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. After his betrayal by the OSS Lincoln veterans, Aalto drifted away from contact with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
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. 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.
William Aalto died of leukemia in June 1958, and was buried in Long Island National Cemetery.


Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spanish Civil War History and Education: William Aalto

$reference.hostName [cached]

William Aalto

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William Aalto
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William Oliver 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.
Aalto arrived in Spain on 17 February 1937, 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.
...
At the end of 1937, Aalto took part in the Battle of Teruel, working behind enemy lines again with Kunslich, Goff and Spanish guerrillas.
...
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.
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.".
...
In 1942, Aalto was transferred to a training camp at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. 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.
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. After his betrayal by the OSS Lincoln veterans, Aalto drifted away from contact with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
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. 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.
William Aalto died of leukemia in June 1958, and was buried in Long Island National Cemetery.


The wars of Bill Aalto: Guerrilla soldier in Spain, 1937-39 | The Volunteer

www.albavolunteer.org [cached]

The wars of Bill Aalto: Guerrilla soldier in Spain, 1937-39

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Just back from a mission behind Franco's lines, probably late 1937. From left to right: Bill Aalto, a Spanish guerrilla fighter, Alex Kunstlich, and Irv Goff.
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From left to right: Bill Aalto, a Spanish guerrilla fighter, Alex Kunstlich, and Irv Goff.
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Bill Aalto was 21 when he left for Spain. His general profile seemed unremarkable among the American volunteers who would form the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigades: a young communist, a child of European immigrants, impelled by the desire to make a mark on an impervious and unforgiving world, and pushed by the ravages of the economic crash. Like most of the volunteers, Bill vested his own hopes in the dream of the Spanish Republic. But for him the feeling was magnified by his particular family background, where the hopes, fears, and tensions between the old and new worlds stood out in sharp relief.
When Bill sailed from New York in February 1937 aboard the SS Paris, bound for Le Havre, France, he was making the reverse transatlantic journey his own mother had made 30 years earlier, at virtually the same age.
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Elsa was determined that Bill should stay on at school.
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They moved to what was, in the 1920s and 30s, the relative comfort of the Bronx, and Otto adopted 12-year-old Bill. But relations between stepfather and son worsened as Bill grew to be a bright and educated teenager. He stayed at school, but also went his own way-which was in some ways his mother's too. He ran with the Harlem Proletarians, a Finnish youth club, and joined the Bronx Young Communist League. A politically literate streetwise boy, a voracious reader with writerly talent and a social conscience, he was already looking for a place in the world when the depression struck, followed rapidly by a personal and family tragedy-the death of Bill's young half-brother, Henry. This family crisis catalyzed Elsa's estrangement from Otto, deepened by their very different worldviews and politics. It also intensified Bill's conflict with his stepfather-a conflict that would worsen over the years, eventually with irrevocable consequences. In 1935, when he was 18, Bill left home-and school-earning his living in casual jobs, before making the decision to go to Spain.
On his arrival, Bill was recruited immediately as a guerrilla soldier at the International Brigade (IB) collection point in Albacete-one of a tiny number of North Americans (and of only a relatively small number of International Brigaders overall) who fought in the Republican irregular forces, carrying out sabotage behind enemy lines. By late 1937 these irregular forces would be brought together-Spanish and IBers alike-as a single corps, the Fourteenth, of the Republican army. But when Bill arrived in the second half of February, everything was far more fragmented, as a result of the July 1936 military coup which had almost completely destroyed the coherence of the Republican armed forces.
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Bill made the selection: he was big -approximately 6' 2"-strong, fit and athletic. He also had a good knowledge of Spanish very well, having studied it previously, which set him apart from most other IBers
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Bill (l) and his brother Henry.
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Recruited along with Bill was another tough, intelligent and charismatic American volunteer: the college-educated, New York Longshoremen's union organiser Alex Kunstlich (aka Kunstlicht or sometimes Kunslich), who was seven years Bill's senior.
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Shortly after finishing their training (at a demolitions school set up by GRU advisers near Jaén in southern Spain), Bill and Alex teamed up with another New-York volunteer-turned-guerrilla, the tough Brooklynite Irving Goff.
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Bill did participate in some guerrilla operations in the northeast, on the Teruel front.
But he was not part of the Albarracín bridge-blowing operation in which Goff and Kunstlich were involved and which was fictionalized in Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. Goff never actually met Hemingway and it is highly improbable that Bill did either.
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While the idea played to Goff's ego, Bill had a nice line in ironic quips about Hemingway. (These appear, for example, in the always shrewd and often witty responses Bill gave to the famous U.S.- government-commissioned "Fear in Battle" study, which Yale sociologist John Dollard carried out in 1942.
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To the phrase "expects to be afraid in battle and tries to get ready for it," Aalto retorted: "Hemingway should be kept out of this [study]"; to Dollard's phrase "wonders 'if he can take it'," Aalto replied: "Give him For Whom the Bell Tolls.")
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To the phrase "expects to be afraid in battle and tries to get ready for it," Aalto retorted: "Hemingway should be kept out of this [study]"; to Dollard's phrase "wonders 'if he can take it'," Aalto replied: "Give him For Whom the Bell Tolls.")
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By late 1937, as guerrilla operations on the southern front expanded, Kunstlich came to command much larger numbers in a unit in which Bill served as his operations officer and second-in-command.
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Bill was responsible for all the logistics, supply, and strategic planning of Kunstlich's operations.
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Bill loved the intricacies of soldiering, perhaps for the pleasure of control it gave after the powerlessness of the depression and the irresolvable emotional tensions at home. In his quiet concentration on detail, he was much closer in temperament to Alex Kunstlich than to his other comrade, Goff. Bill was technically a very good soldier and was promoted rapidly-and ahead of Goff, his senior by 15 years.
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In May 1938 Bill became a lieutenant but lost his comrade Kunstlich: Alex was captured and executed near Granada, after a spectacular lapse in his usual meticulous approach to operations-provoked in part by the calamitous effect of the great retreats of March 1938.
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The mission was a success, but it almost cost Bill and Goff their lives.
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Bill and Goff survived largely because they were both champion swimmers. (In Bill's case, this was courtesy of his time in the Harlem Proletarians.)
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Bill was promoted to captain in June 1938. But 17 months of service had taken their toll. Well before the formal withdrawal of the Brigades was announced in September 1938, both Bill and Goff had become exhausted.
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Between July and November 1938, Bill spent three periods in the hospital with fever, colitis and what was by now chronic malaria. He wrote repeatedly to the Brigade authorities on behalf of himself and Goff arguing that they were no longer serving any useful purpose and would be better off returning to the United States to support Republican Spain on the publicity front. Bill also worried that his passport would cease to be valid if he remained abroad for more than two years continuously, a concern to him particularly because of financial responsibilities for his mother and young half-brother, John (Jusse), then aged 8. The wheels moved slowly-November before they were sent to a demobilization unit in Valencia; mid-January 1939 when they arrived by boat in Barcelona; early February before Bill sailed into New York. He had been gone exactly two years.
Crossing the lines
William Aalto, Meidän Poikamme Espanjassa (Our Boys in Spain).
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William Aalto, Meidän Poikamme Espanjassa (Our Boys in Spain).
Bill came out of the war with the highest commendation of any awarded to the Lincoln brigaders, but he never told war stories afterwards.
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It's unclear whether Bill's work for the army had any bearing on the fateful decision of his stepfather Otto to denounce Bill to the FBI, which he did by visiting its New York field office in March 1941.
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Otto's political views were antithetical to Bill's, but he may also have been perturbed about a perceived danger to his own status as a naturalized citizen. While the Lincolns were already under FBI scrutiny, it was Otto's action that triggered the opening of a file on Bill.
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Not long after their return from Spain, Bill had told Irv in confidence of his sexual preference for men.
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In other words, the Lincolns' reaction to Goff's broadside against Bill was strongly influenced by the climate of suspicion against them in the OSS. Still, a current of subconscious machismo and social prejudice was likely part of the picture too. Goff's own motives were probably more complicated. An intensely competitive individual and rather self-important, he was irked by Bill's rising military star and promotion ahead of him, first during the civil war and afterwards in the OSS. But there is no doubt that what finally sealed Bill's fate in the OSS was the nature of the political times and the sense of vulnerability it inspired in th

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