William Eric Aalto was born in the United States. He was a member of the communist party, and he joined the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, which was a unit that volunteered to fight during the Spanish Civil War for the Popular Front.William Eric Aalto, of Finnish extraction, was born in the Bronx, New York on 30 July 1915. His mother, a militant member of the Finnish Communist Party, had fled to the United States due to her radical political beliefs. She enrolled in the local communist party, educating her son with Marxist ideology. After leaving school, he worked as a truck driver and was a member of the Young Communist League.Aalto arrived in Spain on 17 February 1937, joining the other International Brigades at Albacete. In March 1937 he joined the Spanish Communist Party. During the war, he volunteered for dangerous guerrilla operations which frequently required him to work behind enemy lines for up to weeks at a time. Working with International brigaders, Alex Kunslich and Irving Goff, Aalto was trained by Soviet instructors in the use of pressure-sensitive explosives to destroy railroad tracks, bridges and power lines. One of their objectives was the destruction of the main supply bridge spanning the Albarracín River. The operation may have been the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.At the end of 1937, Aalto took part in the Battle of Teruel, working behind enemy lines again with Kunslich, Goff and Spanish guerrillas.On 23 May, 1938, Aalto, now a lieutenant, led the successful amphibious operation at Carchuna, Motril on the southern coast of Spain, which resulted in the rescue of 300 Republican prisoners held in the Fort of Carchuna. This raid constitutes the only operation of its kind ever undertaken by the Spanish army.In September 1938, with a Republican defeat in sight, the Abraham Lincoln Battalion was withdrawn from the front line and shortly afterwards disbanded. William Aalto returned to the United States.During his time in Spain, Aalto wrote: "A soldier who is politically conscious that he is right and who has a feeling of community with his society... will do his job well.".In 1941, Aalto's former comrade-in-arms, Irving Goff, recommended him for recuitment to the Office of Strategic Services. At this time, Aalto confessed to Goff that he was a homosexual. Goff and other OSS Lincoln veterans reported the fact to the organization's head, General William Donovan, requesting for him to be removed from their team.In 1942, Aalto was transferred to a training camp at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. In September 1943, while training soldiers in demolition work, Aalto saw someone drop a live grenade and lunged for it. Before he could throw it away, the bomb exploded, severing his arm at the wrist.With the help of his disability pension and the G.I. Bill, he returned to further his education, studying poetry at Columbian University. At this time, he published several pieces of his writings in the New Masses. After his betrayal by the OSS Lincoln veterans, Aalto drifted away from contact with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.Aalto then travelled to Europe, where he met the poet W.H. Auden. Though sharing the company of other poets, Aalto now wrote little and tended towards alcoholism, frequently becoming violent. Toward the end of his life, he was poet James Schuyler's lover, and features in the latter's poem Dining Out with Doug and Frank.William Aalto died of leukemia in June 1958, and was buried in Long Island National Cemetery.
- Biography courtesy of Wikipedia.
ALB Archival Materials
Jyrki Juusela Biographical Sketch, Complete List of Americans on File April 13, 1937; K. E. Heikkinen, ed., Meidan Poikamme Espanjassa (Our Boys in Spain), Finnish Workers Federation, USA, Inc., 1939. translated by Matti A. Mattson.; biographical information from Victor Berch.
Full Database Record