Email | Share | Print

Robert Lee Reed


Reed, Robert Lee (1)

Reed, Robert Lee. (Bob Roberts), b. July 6, 1914, Coolidge, Texas, CoB, Commonwealth College, Mena, Arkansas, Single, Party organizer, Laborer and Farmer, CP November 1933 and YCL, organizer; received passport# 391391 on April 13, 1937 which listed his address as 252 Farnsworth Avenue, Detroit, Michigan (525 E. 6th Street, NYC), Sailed April 24, 1937 aboard the Vollendam, Arrived in Spain on May 30, 1937 having survived the sinking of the City of Barcelona, Served with the XV BDE, Mackenzie-Papineau BN,  Served at Fuentes del Ebro, Teruel, Seguro de los Baños, Retreats and Ebro Offensive, rank Sargento;  WIA Seguro de los Baños, Returned to the US on December 15, 1938 aboard the Paris, WWII US Army, Quartermaster Corps assigned to the 8th Air Force Service Command, later transferred to the 9th Air Force Service and Engineer Command, ETO England, France and Germany, rank Master SGT, d. January 29, 2005, Seattle, Washington, Conducted extensive research on volunteers from the Pacific North West, The Reed Collection is part of the Special Collections Archives in the University of Washington.

Sources: Sail, SACB, Cadre, Mac-Pap, Pay, RA, ALBA 082 Robert Reed: Northwest Volunteers Research Project Records; ALBA PHOTO 005 Robert Reed Photographs, University of Washington,    Good Fight C, Harriman, Pacific NW; (obituary) Abe Osheroff, “Bob Reed, 1915-2005,” The Volunteer, Volume 27, No. 1, March 2005, p. 20; (obituary) Chris Brooks and Lisa Clemmer, “Bob Reed, 1914-2005,” The Volunteer, Volume 27, No. 2, June 2005, p. 21.

Photograph: Bob Reed, International Brigade Archive, Moscow: Select Images, Folder 188: 15th International Brigade Volunteers, Portraits, 1937-38, Box 2, Folder 14; ALBA Photo 177; ALBA Photo number 177-188031. Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries; and RA Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 969.


Biography (Obituary)

Bob Reed was cutting barbed wire in front of the fortified Nationalist hill at Seguro de los Banos when machine gunners on top opened fire. A round cut through his helmet and into his head. Bob thought his fight was over. Fortunately for him, his fellow international volunteers, social justice, and all of us whose lives he touched over the next seven decades, he survived. We lost a great man on January 29, 2005.

Despite his injury at Seguro de los  Banos, Bob was able to rejoin the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. He returned to the lines before the Retreats. This move is representative of the dedication and determination Bob exhibited throughout his life. Born July 6, 1914, in Rodney, Texas, Bob was one six children in a family of cotton farmers. The Reed family worked as tenant farmers across Texas through some of the worst days of the depression. Falling cotton prices caused the Reed family to live on the verge of poverty. Bob’s parents made significant sacrifices to get him through high school.

Upon graduation, Bob wanted to attend college, but money was not available. He remained optimistic and was pleased when he ran across an advertisement for a college located on an Arkansas farm, where students could work for their room and board. Tuition was only $50 per quarter. Bob submitted an application to Commonwealth College, and with his life savings of $65, he hopped a freight train for Mena, Arkansas.

During his years at Commonwealth College, Bob studied labor history. He served as student farm manager and volunteered as an organizer for the Southern Tenant Farmer’s Union (STFU). He also made many friends, including his roommate Marion Noble, with whom he later fought in Spain. In 1933, Bob joined both the Communist Party (CP) and the Young Communist League (YCL), for which he served as the Arkansas state organizer.

Bob sailed for Europe aboard the Vollendam on April 24, 1937. After docking on France’s Atlantic coast, he traveled across France to Marsaille.  There he boarded the ill-fated City of Barcelona. The Spanish coastal freighter, carrying approximately 500 international volunteers, was torpedoed by a Nationalist submarine on May 30, 1937. The ship sank in minutes. Despite the lingering threat of the submarine, local fishermen launched their boats in a rescue effort. Bob was among those saved by locals. About 50 of the volunteers lost their lives. Bob traveled to Albacete, where he formally enrolled in the International Brigades on June 1, 1937. He then moved to Tarazona, where he joined the Mackenzie-Papineau (Mac-Paps) Battalion in training. He served in every battle that the Mac-Paps fought, from Fuentes de Ebro through the Ebro Offensive. He was wounded three times, including the head wound suffered at Segura de los Banos.

Bob joined the U.S. Army on December 27, 1941. He was in the quartermaster branch and served in the 8th and 9th Air Forces in the European theater of operations. He earned the rank of master sergeant before his discharge on November 16, 1945. After the war, Bob spent a year in New York before returning to Detroit. He found a kindred soul in a young woman named Mildred Aslin. Bob and Mildred married in December 1945. Bob continued his party work, serving as the circulation manager of a new Detroit workers’ paper, The Herald. The 1950s were a difficult time for most veterans.

In a survey response to a question about his activities in the 1950s, Bob wrote, “Party assignments, construction laborer, carpenter, sweating possible arrest or summons to appear before an investigating committee because of my political activities. Increasing reluctance to spending Sundays in political meetings when the weather called for fishing. The 50s were rough.”

In 1961 Bob quietly left the party. He and Mildred moved to Seattle, Washington, to raise their  two children, Bill and Janet. Bob returned to school and earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from the  University of Washington. He worked as the director of a service center for the residents of a low-income housing community. After retiring, Bob split his time between volunteer activities with various progressive causes and his weekend home in Snohomish. Bob’s VALB and Friends Day picnics on his property in Snohomish were much anticipated events.

In the 1970s, Bob and fellow veteran Oiva Halonen began a history of the volunteers from the Pacific Northwest who served in Spain. This invaluable project was  completed in the early 1990s and placed in the University of Washington Archives, with a copy presented to ALBA. Throughout his life Bob worked tirelessly to promote justice and equality. He continued to be active long into his retirement. He was passionate in his causes and about his friends. The compatriots, family and friends of Bob Reed mourn the passing of one whose life exemplified the Good Fight.

- Chris Brooks and Lisa Clemmer.  





ALB Archival Materials

Search the Tamiment Archives


Full Database Record

Last Name Reed
First/Middle Name Robert Lee
Ethnicity Note
Immigration Status
AKA Last Name 1
AKA First / Middle 1
AKA Last Name 2
AKA First / Middle 2
Foreign Nation
Foreign Nation City
Alt Pob State, City
Family: Name
Family: Relationship
Family: Begin Date
Family: End Date
Family: Comments
Education HS
Education College / Univ 1
Education College/Univ Notes
Education College/Univ 2
Graduate or Doctoral Work
Graduate or Doctoral Work Notes
Prior Military Service
Passport #
Passport Series
Passport Reported Lost in Spain
Passport Age
Passport Date
PP or Known Address Street
PP or Known Address City
PP or Known Address State
ALT City
Alt State
Sail Date
Marital Status
Marital Notes
Vocation 1
Vocation 2
Vocation 3
Party Affiliation
Date Affiliation
ALT Affiliation
ALT date
ALT affiliation 2
Arrival (in Spain) Date
Units served with
Battle action
Returned Date
Returned other
WWII Service
Place Died City
KIA/MIA/Died other
KIA/MIA/Died other Date
KIA/MIA/Died other Location
KIA/MIA/Died other Battle
Additional Notes Alt POB Rodney, Texas in Limestone County; --- Robert Lee REED July 6, 1914 - January 29, 2005 Bob was born in Navarro County Texas, the eldest child of a farming family. In his teens, he found his way to Commonwealth College in northwest Arkansas, where he began his lifelong commitment to fighting oppression and advocating social justice. At age 21, he joined the International Brigades to fight against Franco and fascism in the Spanish Civil War. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and married Mildred Aslin in Detroit after his discharge in 1945. After moving to Seattle in 1961, Bob earned a master's degree in social work at the University of Washington and served as the director of Holly Park Neighborhood House. After retirement, Bob worked tirelessly and effectively to organize support for many progressive causes, such as the campaign that sent ambulances and medical supplies to Nicaragua in the 1980's. Bob is survived by his wife Mildred; daughter, Janet Reed; son Bill and wife Miriam; brothers, John and Tom; sister, Jean Heisler; granddaughter, Rebecca Reed; and many nieces and nephews. A memorial will be held on Sunday, March 6, at 1:00 p.m. at Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, Seattle.