MORA LA NUEVA – MAY-1938 by Barney Baley

September 6, 2019
By
Manch O. Phetteplace from Group of Californians in Lincoln-Washington Battalion, Agua-viva, February 1938; Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs; ALBA PHOTO 011-1021 (C360); Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Elmer Holmes Bobst Library 70 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Manch O. Phetteplace from Group of Californians in Lincoln-Washington Battalion, Agua-viva, February 1938; Harry Randall: Fifteenth International Brigade Films and Photographs; ALBA PHOTO 011-1021 (C360); Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Elmer Holmes Bobst Library 70 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That morning when I heard that Manch was killed—

Beneath the almond tree our company

Was lined up for its bread and jam and coffee.

I saw his sergeant, Aaron, passing by.

I called to him; he told me of his death.

I wanted to go off somewhere and cry.

And then I thought, “To hell with weeping now!

I must, we all must, become dynamos

Of anti-fascist hate . . . must make up for

Those lost comrades who shared our stone floor bed,

Who helped us kill a bottle back at Pedro’s,

Or at Albarez joined our singing-bee . . .

Must match and beat the buzzards and werewolves

Of Hitlerism—Hurl them from the Earth!”

-Barney Baley, Hand Grenades, 1942

 

The Manch mentioned in Barney Baley’s poem is Manch Oral Phetteplace.  Manch the eldest of two sons born to Don Phetteplace and Virginia “Vergie” Ann (Whitney) Phetteplace was born on August 29, 1899 in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The family later moved to California. Manch attended San Bernardino Valley Junior College. He joined the Communist Party in 1933 and was working as a surveyor and civil engineer when he volunteered to serve in Spain. After receiving his passport, which listed his address as 1335 Birch Street in San Bernadino, Phetteplace sailed for Europe aboard the Champlain on September 7, 1937.

After his arrival in Spain, Phetteplace likely trained at Tarazona before going to the front as a replacement for the Lincoln-Washington Battalion.  Phetteplace was killed in action on March 10, 1938 near Belchite during the opening hours of the Retreats. Baley did not find out about his friend’s death until May of 1938, as he was hospitalized after contracting bronchial pneumonia at Teruel.

“Aaron,” Phetteplace’s sergeant Baley referenced in Hand Grenades, was Aaron Lopoff. By May when Baley spoke with him, Lopoff was serving as a Company Commander.  Lopoff is immortalized in Alvah Bessie’s book Men in Battle.

In June 1938, the Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade communicated the news of Manch Phetteplace’s death.  In an interview, Manch’s mother told the reporter that he had a longstanding interest in the Spanish Civil War and had wanted to fight on the Loyalist side. She stated, “He couldn’t have done anything else but enlist, and I’m sure he wouldn’t regret offering his life.” Manch’s death sent his mother into the depths of despair and she died by suicide on July 17, 1938, less than a month after receiving word of his death. In a series of notes, she asked friends to look in on her younger son and to inform her estranged husband of her death.

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