¡Viva Clarence Kailin!

September 18, 2011

John Kailin scatters his father's ashes. Photo by M.M. for El Punt

Editor’s Note: These remarks by John Kailin were read in November 2010 at the Monument to Peace in Marçà, Catalonia, on the occasion of the dedication of an olive tree and bench to Lincoln vet Clarence Kailin.

Sisters and brothers, comrades,

One year after Clarence Kailin died, our family still feels the pain of his loss as if it were yesterday. But today we have finally, this morning, brought Dad to rest by his dear comrade John Cookson. We have honored Dad’s fervent wish, a wish that he first expressed to you here in Marçà in 2002.

Now, we can see his mischievous smile and hear his humble “Thank You,” and that gives us tranquility and comfort. To make the experience perfect, we have buried Dad as the first North American, the first “Lincoln Brigadista,” to be a full citizen of Spain Nothing gave him more contentment than the honor of being a Spaniard.

Clarence Kailin was fully aware that your struggle to reclaim historical memory, including the effort to bestow full citizenship, has met resistance. He knew that your efforts will reveal the truth about the extent of Franco’s pathological brutality, and in so doing, deliver some measure of justice to his uncounted victims. As you continue these activities, you continue the work of the International Brigades.

Dad was not the best-known Brigader. He was not an officer or a commissar. No books were written about him. But Pablo Neruda surely had Clarence Kailin in his thoughts when he wrote: “You have taught me to sleep in the hard beds of my brothers…. You have taught me to see the unity and yet the diversity of men……You have made me an adversary of evil, and a wall for the frantic.” (“A mi Partido,” Canto General.) Dad was modest, selfless and generous. But I will let others speak, as they wrote from across the U.S. and from abroad:

“His goodness and humanity made him a very special hero. It was a deep shock to read that Clarence passed away…..I thought his way to live in life would make him almost invulnerable.” (Ana Pérez)

“The few minutes I got to share with him marked me for life. My deepest sympathy for you and your family, but to the entire human race for the loss of such an extraordinary human being. I have no words to express the void I feel.” (Leticia Gómez Ortiz)

“Clarence had such scope. It’s a loss for the world.” (Chris Hobby)

“His brilliant mind and analysis of what went on in the world inspired me to think even deeper and fight even harder, and never give up.” (Abby London-Crawford)

“Clarence and [my mother] Maggie [Coogan Kailin] made us feel so welcome when we arrived in Madison. He somehow managed to treat us as if we were the most interesting people he had ever met. He wanted to know what we thought, what we studied. His eyes twinkled, and he spoke with a laugh.” (John and Kook Huber)

“I never knew anyone like Clarence. His humanism was so deep, he held the truest course even while the most hopeful movements that ever inspired the world were sullied by betrayal, brutality and opportunism.” (John Talbutt)

Having said all these things, Clarence, though he would never lay claim to these qualities on his own behalf, felt a shared companionship with the 35,000 volunteers of the International Brigades. They were that kind of people, so when we honor Clarence Kailin today, we honor so many others.

And like all of them, Dad, too, felt that it was a great honor—certainly never a sacrifice— to fight in Spain. Where else in the world of 1936 did a government resist, rather than appease fascism? Here in Spain, was an opportunity to stop world fascism. Here, they could join Spanish heroes, like Leandro Saun Goddesart and Carmen Casas, who bore the brunt of the war, the brunt of fascist repression after.

What I will not do today, is recite the historical role of the International Brigades, nor of the Lincoln and Washington Battalions, in joining the Spanish fight. People far better qualified have written volumes in every language. People far better qualified have written volumes in every language. Suffice it to touch on my father in two anecdotes. At Jarama, he experienced the horrible fascist attack that drove so many to their  deaths. He told me once that bullets rained around him like hailstones, that he cannot comprehend why he should have been spared. In the second, he describes the last September days near here at the Ebro Front. On Hill 666 he was the lone man with a Czech rifle, the only rifle with ammunition. For three days without water, the men suffered a pain that goes without recognition. At the end, my father lost his self-control, and rose up, only to be hit, his right arm, bones and nerves, shattered…two years of specialized care before he recovered partial use..

We can not finish a story of Clarence Kailin without speaking of John Cookson! Many of you, I am sure, know from reading Juan Maria Gomez Ortiz’s translation, “Recordando a John Cookson, Un Antifascista de WIsconsin en la Guerra Civil Española, 1937-1938.” I bring this up, not only because of their friendship, but to shed a little light on the amazing breadth of experience of the Lincoln Brigadistas.

John Cookson came to the struggle as young scientist, a graduate student on the cusp of receiving two PhD’s. Imagine John Cookson talking to the Brigaders quartered here near Marçà, or in the trenches in the Sierra de Pandols, about . . . quantum physics In the middle of a war! Even today, the few educated people who are familiar with quantum mechanics admit that they do not understand it. It is the study of the interface between the material world and the void, the field, the nothingness-that-is-not- material. It is the study of how things appear and disappear out of thin air. And strangely, it is the science of touch-screens, digital electronics devices, nanotechnology…and the atom bomb.

But here was Cookson . . . Marçà, 1938 . . . speaking to his fellows about quantum mechanics!

Kailin and Cookson each brought out something in the other. It was Clarence Kailin who introduced Cookson to social struggle. It was Cookson, in turn, who helped my father overcome his doubts, helped him discover his own potential to advance in school, laid the groundwork to become a self-taught authority on African-American history, a layman with a working knowledge of biology, botany, electricity…..

Sisters and brothers, thank you for welcoming Clarence Kailin one last time to Spain. “He gave his all into the world. May we each find our way to do as well. ‘A drop of milk in a cup of coffee can never be regathered into a drop of milk…but nor is it gone.’ Clarence has now reentered the world to help us.” (David Kailin)

¡Viva Clarence Kailin!

!Vivan the International Brigades!

¡Viva la República!


4 Responses to “ ¡Viva Clarence Kailin! ”

  1. Spain citizen on October 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you very much Clarence!

  2. Jim Williams on October 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    A great recognition for a wonderful man!

  3. Char Prieto on October 18, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Nice article. I personally met and corresponded with Clarence Kailin, a very remarkable men. His legacy lives on. I am from Spain and I am very grateful to Clarence Kailin for all the sacrifices and his bravery in the Spanish Civil War. He will always be in my thoughts.
    Salud camarada.

  4. Josep M. Badia on December 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    The past summer I visited the tomb of Clarence, Cookson and F. Iaffa alongside my child, and I explained him the history of each one of those brave men, who came from so long to fight for democracy. I expect my son remembers them with the same emotion as I do.