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Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The last known surviving veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade


The Last of the Lincolns: Delmer Berg Dies at age 100




Delmer Berg (December 20, 1915 - February 28, 2016), the last known surviving veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, died peacefully in his California home today. He was 100 years old. Though hard of hearing in his old age, Del was voluble and forthcoming about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War and beyond, recently authoring a piece for the NY Times Magazine and interviewing with El Diario and El País.

We honor Del for his lifetime of activism and his dedication to ALBA-VALB. His death marks the silent turning of a historic page.

Del was born in 1915 outside of Los Angeles – “Where Disneyland is now,” he said wryly in a 2013 video interview with ALBA – to a family of poor farm workers. Seeking better economic opportunities, the Bergs moved to Oregon. But, as the country foundered in the Great Depression, teenage Del dropped out of high school to assist his father. Del’s political consciousness was forged in these early years:

“Being poor, being a farmer, I automatically felt part of the downturn,” he said in a 2014 interview with Friends and Neighbors Magazine. “You don’t need to go to school to learn what’s going on; just sit out on the farm and look around.”

Del found his way out of agricultural labor with a stint in the 76th Field Artillery in the Presidio of Monterey but soon bought his discharge for $120 in 1937: he saw the threat of the rise of fascism in Europe and wanted to travel to Spain. A billboard advertising the “Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade” brought Del into the fold of stateside organizing for Spain. After “licking 10,000 stamps,” in the winter of 1938, Del was on a ship to France and would make the trek across the Pyrenees, following in the footsteps of so many volunteers before him.
While in Spain, Del served in a field artillery and anti-aircraft artillery battery, ultimately laying communication lines from the Republican headquarters to the front during the momentous Battle of the Ebro River. The photo below shows him in the illustrious company of brigadistas Sam Slipyan, Conlon Nancarrow, Ed Lending, Charles Simpson, and Norman Schmidt. His next and final post in the city of Valencia was quiet until his unit’s lodgings in a monastery were bombed by a fascist airplane aiming for a railway station.

Despite the shrapnel in his liver, a personal reminder of the bite of fascism, Del’s life after Spain was an active one. While many Lincoln Brigade vets were prevented from serving in WWII, Del was drafted into the Army. He feared discrimination because of his political affiliations but instead was surprisingly given his choice of outfit by his recruiter. He was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the postwar era but “they could never find me to serve a summons,” he gleefully told Nadya Williams in 2012.

Del’s political commitments were various: the Young Communist League, United Farm Workers, his local NAACP (he proudly recalls being at one time the Vice President of the Modesto chapter which had no other white members), the Mexican American Political Association, the anti-Viet Nam War movement, the Democratic Club, the Congress of California Seniors, and peace and justice committees. In his final years, Del lived comfortably in his self-built home in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

When the vets would muse about who would be last to survive, perhaps none wagered it would be Del. He revealed his secret to longevity in 2014: “I think staying politically active keeps me alive... It fills my life. I never slowed down – I’m right in the middle of things yet.”

Del was predeceased by his wife June Berg. 
ALBA will host a memorial for Del and the Lincoln Brigade in New York. Date to be announced. 

¡Hasta siempre compañero Del!



Yanks in the Dimitrov Battery: standing Sam Slipyan, Conlon Nancarrow, Ed Lending, Charles Simpson (?), Delmer Berg, Norman Schmidt, kneeling two Spanish Chauffers.


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(Text and photos reproduced from ALBA- Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives)


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