Notes from the Biographical Dictionary Project. Saul Freidberg provided several short biographical sketches on fellow veterans. The sketches provide insight into Friedberg as well.
by Saul Friedberg, April 23, 1996
Although Gibbons was a very close and dear friend, I don’t remember very much about him beyond that I knew him in Chicago before we went. I knew and saw him in Spain, and I was in touch with him in the US after we returned. I will tell whatever I remember. After graduating from Harvard Law School in June 1936, I went with a Harvard sociology Instructor, a Communist, Leon Blumberg, who used the name Bud Blair in the movement, to Chicago to take part in the ongoing Steel Workers Organizing Committee drive to organize the steel mills.
He and I both found jobs in South Works of the Carnegie Illinois Steel Mill way down in South Chicago, I as a helper in the mason department of the open hearth mills. I don’t know what happened to Bud after I left for Spain. The job of the mason department was to repair the damage to the masonry of the open hearth furnaces constantly being caused by the extreme heat at which steel was cooked – about 3,000 degrees. Bud and I also became members of the Communist Party branch in that steel mill, and there I met Joe Gibbons, also a worker in the mill and a Communist.
The CP branch did whatever it felt would be helpful in the drive to organize the mill. Joe was a chipper, working on the night shift, from 11 pm to 7 am, and I found out what his work was when I visited him on his job one night on some party business. For some uses, the steel was reduced after cooking to cold ingots which as I remember were about 18” inches square and 36” long or high. These ingots had various imperfections in them, and they were scattered about in one of the sheds of the mill, in which Joe worked. Joe had an air hammer with a chipper attachment which he used to cut out the imperfections in the ingots, going from one to another, and turning them over as needed.
Around the beginning of 1937 the party asked me to go about from organization to organization, from meeting to meeting, and to try and recruit volunteers to go to Spain to fight in the IB and for several months that is what I did. I believe Joe joined up, and I was so persuasive that I induced myself to join. And that is how he and I were recruited. We left Chicago at about the same time, sailed for Spain about the same time, got there about the same time, and came home about the same time. In Spain I believe Joe ended up in the MacPaps and quietly and unostentatiously, and bravely, took part in all its battles, as a Communist. As far as I know, he never became an officer.
He was of Scotch ancestry, as were many skilled workers in the steel mill, short of stature, and strong. When we got home, he went out west somewhere, and I settled in New York, and we were infrequently in touch by mail and phone. Somehow I learned that he had died, and I am reconstructing the date to be about 1975. I take this opportunity to salute him as a working class hero who fought for socialism, and to defend the SU[i] against the coming capitalist military attack. I have no reason to question any of the several references to Gibbons in Rolfe’s book The Lincoln Battalion.
[i] Soviet Union