1968 December 13

Robert G. Thompson, Cold War Victim, Wins Posthumous Right to Burial at Arlington National Cemetery


Robert G. Thompson, an American Communist and victim of Cold War repression won the right to burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Thompson served in the U.S. military during World War II and therefore had a right to burial at Arlington. Because of his Communist Party membership, conviction under the Smith Act, and volunteer service in the Spanish Civil War, the Pentagon barred his burial. The U.S.  Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, in a case brought by his widow, on this day ordered the Pentagon to allow him to be buried.

Thompson served with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a volunteer military group, in the Spanish Civil War, in defense of the Spanish Government against a right-wing and fascist coup led by General Francisco Franco. The war began in July 1936 and ended with Franco’s victory in April 1939. Franco was supported militarily and economically by both German leader Adolph Hitler and Italian leader Benito Mussolini. Many people at the time saw the war as a prelude to World War II, which it proved to be.

Thompson then served in the U.S. Army during World War II, serving in battle in the Pacific Theater. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “extraordinary heroism” in the New Guinea military campaign.

Because Abraham Lincoln Brigade was supported by the Communist Party U.S.A. and mostly included people with anti-fascist and left-wing political beliefs, it was cited as a “pro-Communist” group during the Cold War. Many Brigade veterans were blacklisted or otherwise punished for their participation in the Brigade.

Thompson became a leader of the Communist Party after World War II, and was one of the leaders convicted for their Party membership in the famous Smith Act trial. Thompson served additional time in prison, compared with the other leaders, because he absconded after the Supreme Court upheld the convictions in the famous Dennis v. United States decision on June 4, 1951.

Read the great new book: Adam Hochschild, Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016)

And don’t miss George Orwell’s famous account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938, but many recent editions are also available)

Learn more about the Spanish Civil War: Frances Lannon, The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2002)

And more at the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives: http://www.alba-valb.org/history/spanish-civil-war


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