Back To Brussels

All I can do right now is focus on getting out of this damned country and back to Brussels. In the months that I’ve been here I’ve become as confused as the Spaniards themselves. It seems as if I’m torn between which pain medicine I want like they’re torn between governments. If someone were to have asked me last year what I would be doing at this time I would definitely not have guessed lying in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound. What the hell was I doing caught between those Moroccans anyway? Additionally, what were they doing firing at a journalist?

It’s no wonder the Spaniards consider them savages. When the newspaper gave me the assignment of covering Madrid, I knew there would be danger involved. I just didn’t know it would be this dangerous. Up until this point in my life I have not seen battle as heated as that which I witnessed just days ago. In retrospect, I should probably have never ventured out of my hotel room at the Gran Via. I had a great view of the Plaza, the Casa de Campo, and the University City. However, I, just being myself, wanted more. I didn’t want what I got. Well, I must make the most of my situation.

Because a colleague of mine is now covering the battle action I have an excess of free time and unprintable thoughts which will be great for this journal and writing to the family. This is actually the first entry that I have made since coming to Madrid on the sixth. On that day the tension was so thick that you could feel it in the air. Everyone had a sense of urgency in their step and the streets teemed with market goers. The ‘Insurgents’ were making their advance on the city. General Franco’s Army of Africa was coming east from the Tagus Valley led by General Mola.

As early as a eek before, the German Condor Legion began some bombing raids on the city. It seemed to me that these raids only outraged the citizens of Madrid and hastened their preparation for the coming onslaught. I have never seen so many people come together to put up barricades, soup-kitchens, first aid stations, and message centers. So much for demoralizing the citizens by bombing them! Bombing continued on into the first week of November and Mola’s army kept advancing, gaining one small town after another.

Some of my colleagues from Portugal deemed these small towns as “keys” to the city and predicted hat Madrid would soon fall. However, those folks didn’t take into account some of the tricks the Popular Front had up their sleeve. By November fourth Russian fighters were flying against the Germans and establishing their superiority. I’ve heard that from the ground they seem much more quick and maneuverable than the German Fiats and prevented the German Junkers from deploying their cargo of destruction. By the sixth Madrid was ready for attack and I was ready to photograph and write.

As I was entering the city, however, the government was removing itself to Valencia. Just days before it had been reformed to include the Anarchists as well as the Republicans, Socialists, and Communists. This only helped the Popular Front garner more support, which it seemed, was definitely needed at the time. When President Caballero decided to leave Madrid he appointed a little known general, Jose Miaja, as the supreme commander of the city’s defenses. I, like most others, scratched my head at the appointment of Miaja and also at the choice of Valencia as the home of the government in exile.

Most people assumed Miaja would be the scapegoat for the government and the esponsibility of losing Madrid would fall upon his shoulders. He apparently thought otherwise. I don’t know what happened that first night I was in Madrid but when I awoke the next day everything had been thrown into a feverish pitch. Thousands of civilian troops had dug trenches and the entire city had been set into a motion of defense. Madrid had transformed almost over night. I had heard some days later that Miaja had taken it upon himself not to be the scapegoat upon which Madrid would be set, but rather its savior.

He was actually quoted as aying that if troops were to retreat they should retreat to the cemetery. These seemed like overzealous aims considering the impending bombardment of the city. However, many, including myself, underestimated Miaja and his troops. On the seventh Colonel Vicente Rojo and Major Manuel Gomez helped lead the civilian militia in holding off the “Insurgents” offensive. The machine gun battles were vicious and reminded me of some glimpses I had caught at battles in the World War, especially in the North of France. The “Insurgents” threw men at the barricades and even sent German and Italian tanks.

The sanguineous sight made me grateful for the safe view from my hotel room at the Gran Via. The Moroccans, reinforcing the Spanish stereotype, threw themselves mercilessly into the machine gun fire. I must say, I had never seen such gallant stupidity in my life. Nonetheless, after fierce fighting the opposing sides retired for the day. That night the hotel was abuzz with talk by journalists not only on what we had seen that day, but because of what we had heard might be coming the next day. A sly Brit claimed that he had heard from inside sources that the main insurgent attack would come in the morning.

This attack, he said, would be an arrow-like attack launched between the University City and the Plaza de Espana into the bourgeois section of the city. As if the action of the day hadn’t been enough, many people began to act almost giddy at the upcoming prospects for stories. I, myself, contemptuously thought the bastards would get what they wanted and knew they would still not be satisfied. Reluctantly, everyone finally went off to bed. The next morning we were all awoken by the chants of “No Pasaran” and “Madrid sera la tumba del fascismo” emanating from the streets.

My Spanish not being too good, I asked and discovered these translated to “they will not pass” and “Madrid will be the tomb of fascism”, respectively. In the Gran Via word spread that the International brigades had finally arrived to aid the Popular Front. The International Brigade lent about 3,000 men and, more importantly, experience. All the men, so it was said, had experience from the World War and were aces with guns. With the Brigade’s arrival, word spread that Madrid would be saved, but I was skeptical.

Once the fighting began a noticeable difference from the previous day’s ighting could be easily discerned. The “Insurgents” sent waves of men more frequently and seemed more determined than the previous day. However, the defenses must have had the same informant the Brit had. They knew exactly where the attacks were coming and mowed the insurgents down. Madrid was saved for yet another day! The city that was the setting for the battle of “love against hate, peace against war, and the fraternity of Christ against the tyranny of the church”, as was being broadcast on Madrid Radio, had lived to fight again.

Because the fighting was not advancing as I, and many others, expected I ecided I would venture outside of the Gran Via the next day to get some quality photos. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to follow the advancing Popular Front forces. Inspired by the previous days’ success and General Miaja, they launched their own attack “for Revolution and Liberty. ” This resulted in guerilla-like hand to hand combat that lasted throughout the night amongst the trees on the outskirts of the city. Hampered by darkness and safety precautions, I didn’t witness this myself but saw the gruesome results when I awoke on the morning of the tenth.

Bodies were lying everywhere and thousands were dead. The landscape had taken on a horrific red tint that will haunt my thoughts forever. Thanks to some higher power the fighting on that day was sparse. I assume both sides retreated to lick their wounds and regroup. I heard just today that one-third of the International Brigade died that horrible and hazy night. I ended up spending my time in the languid hotel trying to collect my thoughts and energy. I knew I would need it the next day and I was right! The worst thing is that I felt so invigorated that morning I thought that I ould be out fighting with everyone else.

I decided to apply all that energy so I followed the twelfth International Brigade to the front of attack, the Madrid-Valencia highway. Here the Brigade was to turn the “Insurgents” back one more time but I was not to witness it. I, like the fool that I am, came too close to the action and when a battalion of Moroccans flanked the Brigade I was caught in the crossfire. Luckily I was only shot in the thigh and not killed. It still hurts like hell but was unbearably painful that day. In fact, it was the most painful gunshot wound I’ve ever received.

Hopefully it will be the last. I know it will be the last in the line of duty because I’m resigning when I get home. Well, the nurse just entered the room to administer my shot, thank God That will put me down for a couple of hours so I will close now. I hope, however, that the Brigades can continue to hold off the “Nationalists”, as the “Insurgents” are now being called. I can hear shelling in the distance and have also heard that Franco has arrived and leading the troops himself to their furthest penetration thus far. For Spain’s sake, and Europe’s, he must be stopped.

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