FACES OF ALBA: Herman Schmidt

July 1, 2018


Herman Schmidt of Charlotte Court House, Virginia, talks about how he learned about ALBA and how the lessons of the Lincoln Brigade have informed his politics. He is pictured here with his Triumph motorcycle. Herman rides, camps and hikes across Virginia and as far away as Utah.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in 1943 in a Quonset hut on a military base in Georgia. I spent my childhood in Plum Branch, South Carolina and in 1951 moved to Prescott, Arizona where I spent my teenage years. I was a Boy Scout and grew up watching John Wayne movies. My father’s ancestors were from East Prussia and emigrated to avoid being drafted into the Franco-Prussian war, but my father fought in the Second World War for the US and lost his left leg at the beachhead at Anzio. He was awarded a silver star and purple heart for his service. He worked as a barber at a retired soldiers’ center in Prescott where I met veterans of the First World War and even some who searched for Pancho Villa in Mexico and fought with Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba. We later moved to Virginia and I joined the Marine Corps right after high schoolto fight the Communists like my father had fought the Fascists.

I was in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966 as a radio operator and I saw action. I’m grateful to say that I did not participate in any atrocities, except that the whole thing was an atrocity. The thing about Vietnam was that it became obvious early on that we were not going to liberate anyone or win their hearts and minds. We were there to prop up a two-bit corrupt government and it was obvious that it was a debacle and that we weren’t accomplishing anything worthwhile. When one of our guys was killed in action we began to say he was “wasted.” That pretty much sums up how many of us were feeling. I began to realize that I wasn’t going to feel about my experience in Vietnam the same way my father’s generation did about World War II. In short, it wasn’t “The Good Fight” like the Spanish Civil War!

Vietnam was a turning point for me. I was discharged and I met my wife at Virginia Commonwealth University as a student on the GI Bill. While there, I helped to organize and I spoke at the very first anti-war demonstration in Richmond. I was also in the organization of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

How did you first learn of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?

I went to a big anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC in 1969 or so with a delegation from Richmond and saw some older guys in World War II-era uniforms carrying an American flag and a banner with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade logo. I had never heard of them before and was intrigued and talked to some of them. A year later, I picked up Alvah Bessie’s Men in Battle: A Story of Americans in Spain and since then I’ve read several books on the Spanish Civil War and the Lincoln Brigade. Some of those guys, like Bill Bailey, have become heroes of mine. I had several conversations with Abe Osheroff before he passed away. I told him that I was inspired by his activism and he called back and we talked a bit about his wartime experiences.

Some of the Lincoln vets, like Bill Bailey, have become heroes of mine.

I own a copy of the movie The Good Fight and showed it at the local American Legion post, where I am a member. Almost none of the guys had heard about the Spanish Civil War or the Lincoln Brigade and they were quite impressed. We had a lot of discussion about what was going on in the country at the time of the Spanish Civil War and why many people joined the Communist Party and veered to the Left. I study history and I realize that you need to understand the conditions of the time and way of thinking at the time—the historical context—to get the full idea of events. I’ve told many people about the movie and the Lincoln Brigade and have had good reactions. It is frightening how few people know about the Spanish Civil War and the history of our country.

What does the Spanish Civil War and ALBA mean to you today?

I am interested in the history of the Lincoln Brigade and I’m in line with the politics and values of the Lincoln Brigaders. I don’t consider myself to be a radical leftist, but left of center and I would readily fight for my country but I won’t fight for Exxon. I’m against militarism and the sloganeering of “God, guts and glory” that Trump is promoting. I’m 74 years old now and I don’t take myself too seriously. I like to say that it is ok to be childlike, but not ok to be childish.

This part of the state, southern Virginia, is very poor and there is a lot of adult illiteracy. I volunteer twice a week with a reading program at an adult learning center and I throw in a lot of history. Nobody has heard of the Spanish Civil War. Living here and working as a foreman trimming trees, I’ve learned a lot about the working class. While they might not be as interested in intellectual pursuits they are engaged in heroics and bravery—like trimming branches 65 feet up in an ice storm. There are guys barely scraping by driving log trucks and they are 100% behind Donald Trump because they buy into his slogans. For me, Trump has disturbing similarities to Mussolini or Franco. He plays to fear and hate.