Nate Thornton (1915-2011)

March 4, 2011

Nate Thornton at the SF Bay Area reunion, 2010. Photo Richard Bermack

By the time Mark Thornton and his 18-year old son Nate took a leaflet on a street corner in San Francisco in 1933, their family was down to two. They had left Utah after Mark had been beaten by Pinkertons at a miners’ strike, and the family arrived in Fresno in 1924. Nate’s mother died, and after years of barely surviving in the Depression-hit Central Valley, Mark Thornton sent two children to live with relatives, while he and Nate went to San Francisco to find work.

The leaflet they took was about building socialism and the Soviet Union; it urged attendance at a Communist Party meeting two days later. Mark and Nate went. That night Mark joined the CP and Nate, a high school student, joined the YCL.

Nate later worked in the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps and in 1935 sailed as a merchant seaman around the world. In 1937, he was back in San Francisco. When the call came to join the International Brigades, Nate and Mark both enlisted. Nate hoped to live in a socialist Spain.

After two weeks of training, Nate and Mark were recruited as truck and ambulance drivers for the XV Brigade. Nate served at the Cordoba and Brunete fronts, at a military school in Madrid, and at the Ebro, transporting wounded soldiers.

Father and son returned home when the IBs were demobilized in 1938. Nate moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a union carpenter. There he met Phyllis, who was to be his wife until her death, 43 years later. They had a son, Loren, a daughter, Leslie, and a stepdaughter, Joan. They later moved to the Bay Area, where Nate eventually joined Local 34 of the ILWU.

Nate was active in Veterans for Peace and the Bay Area Post of the VALB. In 1986, he went to Spain for the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, where he met his future wife, Corine. Together, they were active in the School of Americas Watch and traveled to Cuba to challenge the travel ban. They also marched with Grandmothers For Peace at Gorky Park in Moscow. Last May, Nate spoke movingly at the Bay Area Vets reunion in Berkeley about his belief in the ultimate victory of Socialism and Internationalism. He died at his home in Rohnert Park on January 2, watching the news with Corine.

Let Nate’s words be his epitaph:

I am an international. I believe in the international rule of the world and that people of the

whole world should get together and decide that there are going to be no classes in this society, just one class. That the capitalists all have to go to work, get off their butts and go to work! No more CEOs, no more billionaires and millionaires, not that sort of thing. We work, and we decide when we are going to quit working. We decide it collectively, and everything of importance will be decided collectively.