Delmer Berg, Last Surviving Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veteran, Dies at 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 on Sunday, February 28. Berg followed his service in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) with three years in the Pacific theater of World War Two and a lifetime of labor and civil rights organizing. He was 100 years old.
Berg was born in 1915 outside of Los Angeles – “Where Disneyland is now,” he said wryly in a 2013 video interview – to a family of poor farm workers. His mother’s line had long since emigrated from Bavaria while his father was a first generation Ukrainian-American. Seeking better economic opportunities, the Bergs moved to Oregon. But, as the country foundered in the Great Depression, teenage Delmer dropped out of high school to assist his father.
“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.”
During a stint in the 76th Field Artillery in the Presidio of Monterey, Berg became attuned to the rise of fascism in Europe. With the intention of traveling to Spain, Berg bought his discharge for $120. “It was not because I’d like to do something great but I liked the idea to help the Spanish people,” Berg said in 2013. By the winter of 1938, he was on a ship to France and would soon cross the Pyrenees into Spain.
Berg was not alone in his commitment to combating fascism abroad. From around the globe, 40,000 volunteers amassed to assist the Spanish Republicans struggling against Franco’s forces from 1936-1939. Roughly 2,800 men and women from the United States joined the 15th International Brigade, naming their contingent the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. For many Lincolns, their time in the Brigade was linked to a life of progressive activism. Today, their legacy is preserved by the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) in New York.
While in Spain, Berg 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. His next post in the city of Valencia saw the bombing of his unit’s lodgings by a fascist airplane which was aiming for a railway station. Berg convalesced from his shrapnel wounds and sailed home roughly a year after his arrival.
For the remainder of his life, Berg was never inactive. He returned to the Army, by way of the draft, to serve in the Pacific during World War Two. Like so many other “premature antifascists,” as members of the Lincoln Brigade were dubbed, Berg was harassed by the FBI during the McCarthy era. Still, Berg persisted in the path he had taken early in life: farm labor and activism. He was involved in the United Farm Workers, the local California NAACP (he was at one time the Vice President), the Mexican American Political Association, the anti-Viet Nam War movement, the Democratic Club, the Congress of California Seniors, peace and justice committees.
In his final years, Berg lived comfortably in his self-built home in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Up until the end of his life, he remained eager to talk about his experiences in Spain and to respond with a friendly word of encouragement to those who looked to him for advice and inspiration. “I think staying politically active keeps me alive, too. It fills my life. I never slowed down – I’m right in the middle of things yet,” said Berg in 2014