The year 1936 was a pivotal year in my life and politically throughout the world.
I was in the fourth grade and on March 18 would be 10 years old. My mother wanted to hold a birthday
party for me, asking me to invite some of my school classmates to come and help me celebrate it. It would
be on a Friday and Antti planned to knock off work early in Connecticut so that he could be home for the
occasion. But in March of 1936, New England was hit by tremendous rainstorms and its worst floods in
decades. Just in time for my birthday. Roads were flooded, houses and bridges washed away and incessant
rain poured down from the skies on March 18. Water poured out with force from Wachusett Reservoir over
the Worcester Road into Wyman’s Pond, making the road impassable. So, of course, nobody came to my
party. Just my mother, sister, and I were at home staring at the cake. My father came home in the middle of
the night, detouring around washed out roads and bridges, taking alternative routes during a horrendous trip
home from Connecticut. So its was a stormy start for the beginning of my tenth year.
AUNT AINO PASSES
We also had a death in the family later that year. My Aunt Aino came down with a severe stroke, how
speech and body movements badly affected. I believe she was still only in her forties. She had been a heavy
cigarette smoker for a good part of her adult life at a time when not many women smoked. But she always
took pride in being “modern”. Since she was still a relatively young woman, the cause of the stroke was
We’d go down to see her during the six weeks she was trying to recover from it. Finally, on one visit she
had mostly recovered her power of speech and her articulation was improving and she was regaining some
mobility. We hoped for a quick recovery.
I can recall her talking with my mother: “Ne olivat ne saatanan Lucky Strike;it mitka (umlaut a) taman
(umlaut a’s).” (“It’s those god-damned Lucky Strikes that did this.” And, that years before knowledge
about the harm nicotine can do to a person.
Within a week later, she had another stroke which finally killed her. Meantime, Lempi had come up from
New York to help out her father.
We went to the funeral which was held in the Finnish Socialist Hall in Canterbury. I can recall Lempi
saying a beautiful eulogy although she and her stepmother were never able to get along very well. It was
my first funeral and my aunt’s body was the first I’d ever seen in a coffin. It was a very sad occasion to say
the least. It was a secular ceremony, although I remember the Hall chorus singing, tears flowing down their
faces. Aino was much loved by the Canterbury Finns and those from the Worcester Hall who came down
for the rites.
SPANISH CIVIL WAR
One of the vents that stirred people from all over the world prior to World War II was the Spanish Civil
War. General Francisco Franco and has fascist army attacked to overthrow the legally elected center-left
government of the Spanish republic in 1936. It opened a major war phase for the fascist movement in
which Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were able to test out their modern weaponry. None of the bourgeois
democracies would come to the aid of the Spanish Republic. Only the USSR gave material support and they
exacted a stiff price for it, as George Orwell pointed out some years later in his eyewitness chronicle of the
vents in his famous book, “Homage to Catalonia”. Socialists, Anarchists, Anarcho-Syndicalists,
Communists, and independent Marxists like members of the POUM (Partido Obreros Unifico Marxista) and
their members fought like hell to keep the fascists from taking over.
The Spanish Civil war include another dimension, the Spanish Revolution by workers and anarchists led
by the Anarchists of the FAI (Federacion Anarchista Ibreria) and the Anarcho-Syndicalist CNT
(Confederacion Nacional Trabajadores). Large sections fo the country , cities like Barcelona, self-governed
by workers and protected by worker militias, while productive rural anarchist collectives dotted the
countryside. Contrary to the top-down command hierarchy of the Communist Party which ruled after the
Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the Spanish Revolution by and large reflected popular self-management by
the associated producers themselves. Sadly, this experience in rank and file collectivism which lasted from
1936-1939 was crushed by the armies of Franco on the one hand and by the treachery of the Stalinist on the
other. More about this later in these Memoirs.
I remember reading in The Raivaaja, primarily which I learned to read Finnish at an early age, about the
Spanish Civil War on a regular basis. Naturally, in our own Finnish political milieu our sympathies were
with the Spanish Republic. I would pore through the paper reading about the battles and learned the names
of` cities where they were fought like Santandar and Bilbao.
I remember talking about the Spanish Civil War on one summer day with Bobby Beauchamps who was
visiting his aunts and uncle nearby. When his aunt Dolores heard me argue in favor of the Loyalists, she
was quite upset. Apparently she was pro-Franco as many conservative Roman Catholics were at that time,
frightened of the “Godless Communists” on the other side. So this incident was my first experience in
talking politics, although I hardly knew what I was talking about.
FINNS LEAVE SOCIALIST PARTY
After many years as one of the most prominent ethnic groups in the Socialist Party, U.S.A. to which they
remained faithful following the split with the Communists, the Finnish Socialist Federation as reconstituted,
left the Party and began to function as an independent organization. There were several reasons for this:
The Finnish immigrant Socialists were becoming more conservative. They had been impressed and
influenced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal reforms and began voting Democratic
in 1936 and thereafter. They no longer considered the idea of an independent Socialist electoral party as
practical in the United States and a wasted vote. Although they still had a lot of admiration and respect for
Norman Thomas and other leading Socialists, they no longer for the most part gave them their vote for
Since the Great Schisms with the Wobblies and later the Communists, the left wing of the Federation
diminished in significance. Although the Federation’s ideological grounding had first been shaped by the
Kautskyist Marxist Social Democracy promulgated by people like F. J. Syrjala, the late Raivaaja editor-in-chief, by the mid-thirties they were more attuned to the gradualist reform politics of the Scandinavian Social
Democratic Parties rather than classic Marxism. Their exemplar in Finnish politics was the right wing of
the SDP, rebuilt primarily by Vaino Tanner in the post-Finnish Civil War period, which was more attuned
to the Social Democracy of the German Edward Bernstein, rather than his more fundamentalist Marxist
counterpart, Karl Kautsky.
The first generation of immigrant Socialists were beginning to age. With the passage of Social
Security by Congress, and some years after World War II, Medicare, many of these Social Democrats
considered the major goals of Democratic Socialism accomplished. No more were they demanding the
abolition of capitalism and the socialization of the basic means of production, distribution and exchange,
which remained key long-range platform planks with the SP-USA. Also the main areas of activity for these
Finns was not in the trade union movement, Socialist electoral campaigns or other working class politics but
in the consumer cooperative movements and credit unions, in the building of which they did excellent work.
The Rochdale Principles of Cooperation instead of the Communist Manifesto. Further not that many of the
second generation Finns born here were interested in the Socialism of their parents abd generally just
became American liberals who voted Democratic.
With years of bitter ideological combat with the Communists, they developed an anti-Sovietism which
the Stalinist purges and the fate of the Karelian Fever emigrants to Russia helped to deepen further. So
some Socialists began to look more kindly at American capitalism, instead of more vigorously advocating a
Democratic Socialist alternative to the Stalinist horrors. Jack Jamsa, a Westminster poultry farmer,
Farmers Coop activist, and a Raivaaja subscription solicitor, was a World War I veteran. He became a
proud member of the Westminster post of the American Legion to prove his American patriotism and his
hatred of Soviet Communism.
LEFT TURN FOR SP-USA
In the mid-1930s, the Socialist Party-USA took a decided turn to the left. The main factors included
the deep American and world depression with its havoc of mass unemployment, farm and home mortgage
foreclosures, poverty and hunger, which these Socialists believed no half-way reform measures could solve,
only a wholesale transition to a complete Democratic Socialist system from a faltering capitalism could
bring about a cooperative commonwealth with plenty for all. Also the threat of world fascism with the rise
of Nazi Germany and the abominations of Fascist Italy especially in Ethiopia and now horrors of the
Spanish Civil War drove fear and rage into their hearts and helped radicalize the Party.
Much of the left, particularly the Communists, saw Spain as the first assault military assault by fascism on
the world scene in it quest for world domination. The Socialists saw these beginnings even earlier, in 1935
with the uprising of the Austrian Socialist working class against the dictatorial fascist Dolfuss regime which
had just taken power. Thousands of workers rose in armed rebellion, mostly with small arms, to try to
throw Dolfuss and his cohorts from power. But they were military destroyed by the Austrian army and
police. The Austrian Socialists made their last stand behind barricades at the giant Karl Marx workers’
housing collective complex in Vienna, going down fighting. In the early 1952 in Chicago I talked to an
Austrian trade unionist who was taking a short course in labor studies at the University of Chicago. He told
me he was fifteen at the time of the Dolfuss uprising and was manning a machine gun defending the Karl
Marx Hof in its last brave stand, which he somehow survived.
The defeat of their Austrian comrades greatly disturbed the American Socialists, the left wing of which
began to believe that revolutionary socialist politics was the only way to defeat world fascism, that liberal
palliatives were not enough. Some became suspicious of the New Deal saying that the proliferation of
gargantuan federal alphabet agencies developed by FDR’s brain trust had fascistic, authoritarian overtones.
The SP youth organization, the historic YPSL was taking its most revolutionary stance in years.
Many Socialist Party members were involved in the organization of the CIO. Of note, were Walter and
Victor Reuther, Emil Mazey, and my old friends the late Frank Marquart and Bruce Sloan in the United
Auto Workers Union. The Communists also were prominent in CIO organizing and the Reuther brothers
were initially CP fellow travelers at first, before they became bitter enemies. So of course, the involvement
of the Communists was disturbing to the anti-Communist New England Finnish Social Democrats. There
were many of these Finns now in the building trades, particularly in the Carpenters Union, and felt more
comfortable with the more conservative trade unionism of the American Federation of Labor than the
insurgent militancy of the new kid on the block, the CIO. Thus they became more cool to the SP, despite
the more conservative unionism of people like Dubinsky and the ILGWU, in which many SP members were
also involved, many in leadership positions.
TROTSKYIST TROJAN HORSE
Meanwhile, the American Trotskyists came knocking at the door of the SP-UA, asking to affiliate. This
came as the politics of the International Trotskyist Fourth International, known as the “French Turn”. The
theory was that the turn to the left of many world Socialist Parties, as well as the American, was a dangerous
development (which actually might steal the Trotskyists thunder in recruiting militant Depression-era
workers) and had to be stopped. Theirs was almost akin to the “social fascist” accusation against Socialists
by the Stalinist Comintern in the 1929 beginnings of their “Third Period” They also believed that the
increasingly revolutionary youth movements (such as the YPSL) of these Socialist Parties were being
misled on the wrong path and had to be won away to Trotskyism. So Trotskyist affiliates throughout the
world, playing “Mr. Nice Guy” sought entry into the Socialist Parties in the world, but with the secret aim
of raising havoc in them, rendering them ineffectual, and taking these parties’ revolutionary youth with them
when they left or were finally expelled.
This also took place in the United States. Of course, the needed to “play nice” for the SP-USA to accept
their entry. They ostensibly preached “Socialist Unity” and comradeship to more strongly counter
capitalism and the growing fascistic right wing in the United States. They were voted in and once they had
their nose securely in the tent, they started to rend the party apart. They practiced deliberately disruptive
ultra-revolutionary politics, something the more democratic, fair play-minded and good-willed SP people
were not used to and this practically wrecked the Party, which had declined in strength with the reformist
successes of the New Deal and the ascendancy of the CP-USA as the strongest force on the American Left.
By 1938 a lot of the damage had been done, and the much-divided, badly crippled SP-USA, were finally
able to expel the Trotskyists who were successful in their unprincipled mission. And when they left, they
were also successful in taking a large number of the YPSL youth with them.
In the 1050s when I was a member of the Socialist Party of California in Los Angeles, many of the old-time SPrs from that period said that the Trotskyists practically broke the Party both financially and
organizationally, by running up huge telephone deficits in the various SP headquarters in the state, and
when they left they took many of the Party’s mimeograph and office supplies with them. These few years
left the SP-USA reeling. Charles Curtiss an activist in the SP-USA in the 1950s on until his death in 1990s
had been a Trotskyist during the French Turn period, and had been one of Trotsky’s bodyguards in Mexico
before his murder by a GPU assassin, He often expressed regret at the history of his ex-comrades, and felt
they should have never left the SP, and stayed to act constructively to help increase its growth. In later
years, I never had the opportunity to discuss this period with my cousin Lempi, who had been a long-time
Trotskyist before she quit. So, I’ll never know her take on this issue, as to my knowledge she left no written
record after her death in 1983. Much of what I’ve related above can be gotten from a critical reading of
James P. Cannon’s book, The History of American Trotskyism”. The late Cannon was one of the founders
and main architects and political gurus of the Trotskyist movement.
FINNS HAVE ENOUGH
All the foregoing factors alarmed the more sedate increasingly conservative Finns who found the din,
clamor, and the revolutionary rhetoric in the Socialist Party too for the more serene life they knew in their
own halls, particularly since the great splits in the ‘teens and the twenties of the century. This language
federation felt alienated from a Party they had served faithfully since 1907. So in 1936 they voted to leave
and functioned as an unaffiliated national federation of Finnish language Socialist locals for four years. In
1940 they formed the Amerikan Suomalainen Kansanvallan Liitto (Finnish-American league for
Democracy), a non-affiliated Social-Democratic association which identified with the Vaino Tanner wing of
the Finnish Social Democratic Party. Is official news organ remained The Raivaaja.
About the same time that the Finns left the SP-USA, so did several thousand members of it other large
ethnic affiliate, the American Jewish immigrants, most of whom worked as officers and members of the
needle trades unions, particularly the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, headed by David
Dubinsky, until at least the early 1930s an SP member himself. These folks were readers of the Jewish
Daily Forward, a right wing Social-Democratic newspaper published in New York. They named
themselves the Social Democratic Federation which supported FDR and the New Deal. In their early years
they also supported the American Labor Party of New York until the Communist Party became the
dominant left force within its politics.
Since these Finns and the SDF seemed to be political soul mates, it might have seemed logical for the
Finnish Social Democrats to affiliate with the SDF. But they never did, wearying of all the factional battles
of the American Left, preferring to work mostly in their own ethnic communities without further ventures
within broader affiliations.
The departure of these Finns from the SP-USA didn‘t set all that well with all Finnish Socialists. Some
retained their fundamental Socialist politics of the 1920s and many remained admirers of Party personalities
like the revered Eugene Victor Debs, and the urbane Norman Thomas. An unknown number continued to
pay their dues to the SP-USA as individual members although most of their activities were in the F.A.L.D.
As I was still a young child I didn‘t know anything about the details of our disaffiliation at the time, but did
hear my parents and their friends talking about it. I can recall, for instance, Henry Mela, a Finnish carpenter
and poultry farmer from Westminster who was a member of our town‘s co-op local, saying at a social
gathering of Finnish men, including my father: “The day we Finns left the Socialist Party was the saddest
day of my life.”
MY FIRST POLITICAL CAMPAIGN
In the fall of 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt was up for re-election and was being challenged for the
Presidency by Governor Alfred E. Landon of Kansas for the Republicans. I was very excited by the race
and FDR was my hero. Here I was, ten years old and in the fifth grade. My teacher was Doris Cummings, a
Republican. I saw adults wearing FDR buttons and automobile bumper stickers everywhere. My parents
also admired Roosevelt at that time. However they could not vote as they were not yet American citizens.
Where we parked out car on Fitchburg’s Main Street near the Upper Common for our Saturday shopping,
there was a storefront headquarters of the Fitchburg Democratic Party. I went into the store, got some
campaign literature and a large supply of FDR campaign buttons. I took them all to school and campaigned
among my fellow classmates, handing out buttons. Most of them took them, even those with Republican
parents. (After all in Westminster there were 400 registered Republicans to 300 registered Democrats.)
The upshot was that we had most all of the fifth grade students wearing FDR buttons to class. Only four
wore Landon and Knox buttons. Ms Cummings wasn’t too happy with this overwhelming show of force,
but made no move to stop us from wearing them. Our class preferences were a good indicator of the
outcome of the election itself in which Roosevelt won in a landslide and carried the electoral votes of all the
states except Maine and Vermont. Most of the Finns who were citizens and registered to vote who voted
for Thomas in 1932, voted for FDR this time around, although Thomas might have remained their
sentimental preference. So this was my first and most successful political campaign.
PAPPA COMES HOME
The four years commuting back and forth between Westminster and Connecticut and not seeing his family
except on brief weekends took its toll on him and all of us. Finally, he was offered a job at the United
Cooperative society bakery in Fitchburg, which specialized in Finnish breads and pastries. Now he could
live at home abd cut living and transportation costs considerably. I don’t remember whether he worked the
day or night shift at the bakery. I don’t even remember when this transition was made, but perhaps in 1937.
Further, he had plans to expand our poultry farming operations, with a plan in mind to be able to farm
self-sufficiently enough to eventually quit his bakery job which he had grown to dislike intensely after 30
and more years at the trade. He was really a farmer at heart, a native of backcountry Ladoga region of then
He also had dreams and plans for me. With the old Finnish agrarian mentality he wanted to leave the
farm to me as a legacy for his oldest and only son, when he’d hang up his overalls on the back porch
entryway hook for good. he had dreams of sending me to study poultry science and husbandry at the state
Stockbridge School of Agriculture at Amherst, Mass. He was willing to make whatever sacrifices were
necessary to get me the education for me to conduct a knowledgeable scientific farming operation. This
part of his dream didn’t exactly work out, but more on that later.
Expanding our farm operation of course was risky business in the midst of a severe Depression, when
farm foreclosures were epidemic around the country. Small scale, independent farming didn’t appear
economically viable even then, and a poor risk for entrepreneurs and lending agencies. But Antti, or Pappa
as we called him, was optimistic and a dreamer. He had faith in Roosevelt and the New Deal eventually
pulling us out of the Depression. True, the New Deal had alleviated some of the worst ravages of this
horrid period, but we were hardly out of the woods yet -- and didn’t do so until the war economy pulled us
out of the Depression when World War II came along.
But to be able to expand our operation, to build the new poultry houses to make a larger project possible.
took money and a lot of it. It couldn’t be financed solely from a baker’s wages. Our only other income
besides that was the small-scale income from egg and poultry sales and some crops like sweet corn or
strawberries which we sometimes grew for the market. Farm loans were part of the New Deal’s attempt to
revive the economy and American agriculture. These included relatively modest loans to small farmers to
invest on capital improvements for their operations. I don’t remember the name of the New Deal federal
agency which handled such loan applications. The only thing I can recall we had to travel to the County
seat in Worcester where this agency had its offices. I usually tagged along on these trips, but don’t
remember a single thing about these discussions. All I can recall sitting around in that office totally bored
and restless. We would bring Walter Wintturi along as our interpreter since I was too young to be of much
I remember making this Worcester trip at least two if not three times. I don’t recall whether it would have
been a direct government loan or whether the agency just provided insurance backup for a bank loan. And
I’m not sure whether the petition for a government loan was even granted to us. But I do know we did get
loans --- and heavy debts were incurred. It was one hell of a gamble but my parents were willing to risk it.
First, the acreage we had was insufficient on which to build additional poultry houses. So some of the
loan money was used to buy an extra parcel of land from Antti and Eeva Hamalainen, on the other side of
the camp road which ran alongside the back of our property. Thus, buildings were erected, a larger brooder
house nearer the camp road and behind it, a large two story henhouse was built with part of the hillside dug
out to make room for the back of the structure.
A contractor and workmen were hired to build the buildings. My father had Matti Laitinen, a family
friend who had a cottage by the lake along the camp road, as his contractor. There were several other men
working on the job but the only ones I can remember were Antti Hamalainen and another family friend and
farmer, Kalle Arvio, who lived in another part of Westminster. Since it was a pickup gang of men we knew
it wasn’t a union job, and my parents didn’t have sufficient money to hire a union contractor. When my
father went to work at the Coop bakery , the bakers voted to join the AFL Bakery and Confectionary
Workers Union. So at last Pappa became a union member for the first time in his stay in America. I
remember when someone on the henhouse construction job remarked about it not being a union job, Antti
pulled his baker’s union card out of his pocket and said: “I guess I’m the only union man present here.”
And he was proud of his card.
The project was completed but a large debt plagued us for years. Our property was mortgaged to the hilt
and everything was at the mercy of the market for eggs and chickens which bobbed up and down to
extremes. Large concerns made the prices come down with their scale of operations which made it hard for
small family farms to survive. So loan payments were due with little to pay them, so other loans were
miraculously made to pay the others--borrowing from Peter to pay back Paul. Like others in the same boat,
we were held hostage by the banks. No matter how hard my parents worked, we were lucky just treading
water and not drowning. This pattern continued until World War II.
At its height, the most livestock we ever had was 4500 chickens, fairly large for that time, but not by
today’s standards with Tyson Chicken Corporation and its many millions of hens. I guess the only thing we
paid cash for was the chicken feed and supplies we bought from United Cooperative Farmers, of which my
parents were active members.
FIRST LESSON IN UNIONISM
I don’t recall what age I was, perhaps 11 or 12, but I was a big fan of the syndicated comic strip, “Li’l
Abner”, by Al Capp. I would read this strip out loud to my sister on Sundays. Along the line, a movie on
Li’l Abner Yoakum came to Fitchburg and my sister and I clamored to see it. So one weekday evening
after chores, my parents decided to fire up our old Pontiac to take us to see it at the Universal Theater in the
south end of town across form the Boston & Maine train depot in Fitchburg.
When we drew up the street next to the theater, we saw a union picket line parading up and down the
street in front of it. We had no idea who was on strike. The ushers? Janitors? Projectionists? But it made
no difference. My father turned the car around and we headed back toward Westminster. We started to
complain and cry and ask why we couldn’t see the movie. As my father told us: “This family does not
cross workers’ picket lines,” and explained to us the significance of unions, their actions and why we should
be in solidarity with all workers in their struggles for a better life. So I had my first lesson in class
When I was in the sixth grade, we finally got city lights on our farm/ Poles were dug in an the wires were
strung out along Gate House Road and to the Beauchamps place. No more basement generator. Electricity
entered our lives big time. We even got rid of the coal stove in our kitchen and installed an electric stove,
promoted to us by the salesmen of the Gardner Electric Light Co. We probably bought it on time payments
and the light bills proved too high for us. So we got rid of it and switched to an oil burning stove, both or
cooking and central heating system still. But the most exciting thing that happened at age 12 was when we
bought our first radio! This brought the outside world into our lives for the first time. Before this, you
couldn’t get me unglued from whatever book I was reading. Now I was perched by the radio all the time. I
heard all the kid’s programs, Tom Mix and the Ralston Straight Shooters, Jack Armstrong the All-American
Boy, Lone Ranger and others. I even listened to daytime soaps: John’s Other Wife, and Portia Faces Life
among them. Sundays we listened to Jack Benny, Fred and Gracie Allen, and The Shadow. I became a big
boxing fan, particularly the career of Joe Louis who became my big hero. My admiration of Louis and of
Henry Armstrong helped me to overcome any incipient racism that might have been brewing in me.
Of course, I was an avid follower of the news. I even listened to Hitler’s raving speeches, whom I thought
a maniac. I even listened to the increasingly rabid rightist Walter Winchell and his take on politics. But my
main devotion then went to the fireside chats and political speeches of our President Franklin D. Roosevelt
whom I came to hero worship then. As I listened intently to his speeches my father would laugh and say:
“That boy is a born politician.” The radio was an invaluable tool in my education for life.
As time went on, I finished sixth grade at the old Upton School and went into the seventh grade at the
Philip H. Loughlin Junior High School, a new building erected on the campus during the earlier Depression
years. I was getting top grades in my school subjects. My sister Irma began first grade with special
permission at five and one-half years iold, and like me, had to learn the English language from scratch.
In the seventh grade I was elected class president, my first political office. That was in 1938 and I don’t
remember anything I did of merit during my term. I do remember that fall that our seventh grade teacher
Marion Roper, had us go through a mock gubernatorial election which was going on that year in the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The names of the actual candidates and parties were on our school ballot
for this straw vote. I voted for the straight Democratic ticket except for the office of Secretary of State.
There I saw the name of Peter Wartiainen, Jr., the Westminster Finnish dairy farmer who ran for that office
om the Socialist Party ticket. I checked off the square next to Peter’s name to record my vote for him, my
very first vote for a Socialist candidate. I don’t remember who the rest of the class preferred as their
candidates, but my secret ballot for sure represented the only Socialist vote in the whole class.
Again, I excelled in academic subjects but was lousy at sports. I didn’t want to be a sissy academic nerd
and wanted to play baseball badly. But I was terrible at it. My best game was basketball in which I was
good at leaping and pulling down the ball from the backboard into my possession as a guard. I loved
playing tackle football when I was a charging fullback using my big heavy bulk, crashing through the
opponents’ line, and falling over the goal line for a touchdown.
Another somewhat comic incident got me into trouble with Ms Roper in which I was completely innocent.
She asked us to cut out some display advertisements from newspapers or magazines to show and talk about
in class. I was totally ignorant of women’s menstruation periods so I picked out what seemed like an
innocuous ad which promoted Modess, a woman’s sanitary napkin. I didn’t really know what the product
was about but brought the ad to class because I thought it had a nice ring to it. Ms Roper got very angry
with me, why, I couldn’t figure out. You would have thought she was accusing me of exposing my genitals
in class. I can’t recall what punishment became my due.
NEW ENGLAND HURRICANE
Another momentous event in November of 1938 was the notorious New England Hurricane which swept
inland as it came from the Caribbean and caused enormous damage in the Northeast where it hit in full
force. Huge tidal waves decimated summer homes all along the seafronts. The hurricane had been
preceded by several days of heavy rains and flooding which allowed the hurricane to bowl over root-soaked
trees with ease. We had minimal damage on our farm, a couple of fallen trees and a partially damaged roof
on one of the old poultry houses, plus having our car garage doors torn off. At that time one of the Niemi
boys, Arvo and his wife Ellen owned an old farmhouse on the Worcester Road on the way to East
Princeton. During the worst night of the storm we saw flames on the horizon. It turned out that Arvo’s and
Ellen’s place had burned to the ground. The next morning I bicycled over to see the damage, dodging fallen
trees and branches along the road to survey the charred ruins,
When I was about 13 my father started to take me to the Bakers’ Union meetings in Fitchburg. There
were only two union bakeries in the city. One was the Co-op Society bakery with its relatively small all-Finnish staff and the large Town Talk Bakery toward West Fitchburg. This firm may have employed 50-60
men of which 25 or so came to meetings. Coop bakers at meetings number five or six.
Most of the Finnish bakers. including my father had a hard time understanding the English being spoken
at meetings. Some of the Town Talk bakers were quite vocal in expressing their opinions, while the Coop
bakers just sat silently trying to absorb it all.
So after the meetings I would interpret some of what was said at the meeting to my father. To be able to
help in this way was one of the reasons Pappa wanted me to attend meetings with him. Another was
unquestionably to familiarize me with the trade union movement since some day I might well be working in
a trade or on a job with a union contract. I later appreciated my father doing this as it helped me to get
involved in the labor movement a few years down the road. This attitude of Antti’s reflected his pro-worker
Socialist values as he was of the working class himself.
My eighth grade teacher was the other Finnish-American in the Westminster school system. She was
Signe Antila from Fitchburg who taught at Westminster for many years. She was also my sister’s teacher
five years later. I was a good student but goofed off on my homework much to Ms Antila’s disappointment.
I just wanted to be one of the boys and was more enthused about athletics than my studies, I was a good
speller and that year won the district championship in the Worcester County spelling bee competition
sponsored by the Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette newspapers. I survived midway into the county
Ms Antila did urge me to involve myself seriously in my studies, saying I was strong college material.
Working class kids like myself seldom thought in those terms then. In fact, a number of the Finnish-American boys in Westminster dropped out of school after the ninth grade to try to enter a workforce which
was to a good extent unemployed or in the public works programs. But there was no question, high school
graduation for my sister and I was a must in our family. My parents did not want us tom do better than they
did vocationally with their own lack if formal education.
Years later I really appreciated what Ms Antila was trying to say to me. And perhaps she was
instrumental in later getting me to go to the university under the World War II GI Bill. She herself later
studied for a PhD in Education and became an administrator at Fitchburg State Teachers College. She died
as Signe Antila Sipila, in her 90s in early 2003 in Fitchburg.
While I was in the eighth grade, the Westminster American Legion Auxiliary post sponsored an essay contest for eighth graders entitled: “Our Present National Defense”. One was supposed to argue for or against, whether or not enough money was being allocated for it. At that time, my current anti-war position had not been formulated and I was alarmed by the military belligerence of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy and Spain. Japan had invaded China. So I argued that the national defense allocation was insufficient.
But I was also taken in by the basic patriotic jingoism of the time. Although I was turned off by the rally around the flag exhortations of Raymond Stockwell, who drove a sand truck for the town and was a World War I veteran and an active American Legionnaire. At our Memorial Day programs at school Stockwell would make his loud stem-winding speeches full of patriotic fervor. Although it was too much, some of it may have rubbed off on me when I wrote the essay.
As it was, I won the contest, and my classmate Paul Barthel was runner-up. I was given some kind of medal by the Auxiliary and was invited to read it at a meeting of that sorority.
Cousin Lempi came around to see us at that time and I showed it to her. She laughed and in a sarcastic ribbing tone belted out the tune of “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue”. That really deflated my ego. The ensuing discussion may have had something to do with me not developing into some kind of gung-ho political nationalist.
After the death of Aino, Uncle August eventually began dating again and married a woman named Olga, a U.S.-born Finn who had worked on the Grace Line luxury passenger ships plying the waters between New York and the West Coast South American ports. She was also considerably younger than August. She had an adult daughter named Helen. Unfortunately, Olga must have had incipient tuberculosis in her lungs because it became active early in their marriage and she stayed for several years in a TB sanitarium in Norwich, Connecticut.
OUR NEW NEIGHBOR ELVI
Our neighbor Eeva Hämäläinen some years earlier had brought her niece Tyyne Väänänen from Joensuu, Finland to help her on the farm as her marriage to Antti was on the rocks, and he didn’t contribute sufficiently to the work on their dairy farm with his frequent heavy drinking episodes. She eventually married Eino Jämsä, the son of the John Jämsäs, also Westminster dairy farmers who lived on Princeton Road.
So Eeva sent away for Elvi Väänanen, Tyyne’s younger sister, from Joensuu where Eeva’s brother and his family lived. Elvi was a strong, strapping young woman of 21 and could do a man’s work on the farm. I saw her sink new fence post holes along the edges of the Hämäläinen grazing lands, pound in the fence posts and string the barbed wire. It was time to put new roofing on their barn, so we’d see Elvi and Eeva (then in her 50s) up on the barn roof with tar buckets and laying on new roofing materials.
What happened to Antti Hämäläinen?. As I mentioned, Antti’s and Eeva’s angry, antagonistic and sometimes violent confrontations when Antti was drunk would erupt. Both were mean-spirited toward one another. Finally after 30 years of marriage. Eeva retained a lawyer and divorce proceeding were launched.
The marriage ended. The terms: Eeva got the farm and all the lands and assets. Antti got a new pickup truck and $500 in cash. A few weeks after the formal settlement Antti got drunk and wrapped his pickup truck around a tree and totaled it, although he survived.
Eeva and Elvi continued to farm between the two of them. Eeva was something of a slave driver, so Elvi’s lot in the United States initially was a lot of heavy-duty physical labor with little financial remuneration. But Eeva drove herself as hard as she drove her niece.
My parents were impressed with the productivity of the Hämäläinen farm with the advent of Elvi, although they were critical about all the hard labor punishment Eeva exacted on her niece.
THE COMING OF UNCLE OTTO
Our correspondence with Finland indicated that my mother’s youngest brothers Eino and Otto Saikkonen had a difficult time finding work. Finland felt the effect of the Great Depression as much did any other country. Since Otto, then about 28, had the worst time of it on the unemployment lines, we decided to ask him to come and join us and help us on the farm with our growing operation. Otto was tickled over the opportunity. We had a difficult time with the Westminster town officials giving Otto permission to come because there were so many American men out of work, too. But we promised he would not be another body on the job market, that he would come to primarily help us on the farm. They finally relented.
So sometime in 1938 Otto Einari Saikkonen came to join us. We kids were excited as this was the first of our Finnish relatives we’d heard so much about coming to live with us. So he came and things went well for awhile. Otto did his share industriously, was quite a lively chap with an easy laugh and a good sense of humor, and he was very handy with his hands repairing things. He and Elvi, our new neighbor down the road were something of a romantic item for awhile.
However, the downside, as we soon discovered, was Otto’s alcoholism. This we hadn’t known about. At the time we inquired about his coming, my mother asked if he was a drinker. If so, he might as well stay in Finland. Otto’s reply was that he was a sober person, that “ainoastaan herrat kannattaavat juoda täällä” (“only the rich big shots could afford to drink here.”) His big sister Hanna, with all her bitter memories of her father’s alcoholism, was a strong anti-alcohol crusader. She even had misgivings over the repeal of Prohibition here, earlier.
As a result, the oldest sister and the youngest brother had one set-to after another, a really basic personality clash. So after a year or so, my parents decided that Otto must go, as it wasn’t working out. For a few weeks he worked on the poultry farm Uncle August was starting up in Connecticut. But that didn’t work out, either. So we arranged with a Finnish poultry farmer, Kalle Koivumäki, who lived in Oakdale, down the road toward Worcester, to take on Otto as a hired man. Kalle and his wife were old hall Socialists that my parents had known from their Worcester days. Kalle had also been an actor on the Belmont Hall stage. He delivered his own eggs door to door in Worcester, so Otto would be a great help to him on the farm. Actually, that arrangement appeared to work out very well. The Koivumäkis and Otto hit it off quite well personality-wise, too. Somehow Otto was able to stay off the booze while living with them, too. We also got along better with Otto with this arrangement.
I always liked Otto, as he was good company to pal around with. He was lively, quick to laugh and easy to chat with. He was also something of a Don Juan, an excellent dancer, and a snappy dresser. I remember he and a partner once won a prize for their dancing at a Finnish hall affair. He was basically non-political but identified with the Finnish socialist hall scene. He was bright, but not an intellectual. Nor a big reader, like my parents and August.
Finally, Otto left the Koivumäkis and got a job as a housepainter’s apprentice with the Aksila Brothers, Finnish contractors in Worcester. He moved to Worcester and rented a room at the bottom of Belmont Hill near Lincoln Square. He ate his meals at Ida’s Lunch (as I remember), a Finnish-run restaurant on the street floor of the Finnish Belmont Hall. He became good friends with a pool hall operator named Halme who ran his operation in another part of the Hall. Otto was also a crackerjack pool player. And he had a knack for house painting and soon became a highly skilled and competent worker.
However, the Aksila brothers ran a non-union firm and didn’t pay a very high wage. So he got a job with a non-Finnish union contractor and joined the Painters’ Union.
I recall one anecdote he told later to his family in Finland about what happened when he took that job. Otto was a bit of a workaholic and was also trying to impress the boss that he could handle the job. The boss who saw him slaving away told Otto to “take it easy.” Otto, who knew little English, thought the foreman was telling him to work harder and redoubled his efforts. The boss again told him to “take it easy” with the same result. Finally he was somehow able to clarify his message to Otto.
Otto was a skinny little guy, maybe about 5’7” and was quick and agile. So once when the contractor had a project to paint a church, he could get no one to up to the inside of the tip of the steeple, a precarious spot. But Otto scrambled up there like a squirrel and did the job. Heights didn’t bother him and he told me after that he was always the one to take on the most dangerous jobs.
But in Worcester Otto began to hit the bars again and his old drinking days returned. Although he always held down a job, alcohol became a lifelong problem for him, as it did my grandfather Paavo Saikkonen.
OLGA’S AND AUGUST’S MARRIAGE CELEBRATION
While Otto was still living with us, sometime in the summer of 1939, the Connecticut Finnish socialists threw a big wedding bash for August and Olga at their Canterbury Hall. We piled into our Pontiac, Pappa, Mamma, Otto, Irma and me and drove the 60 miles over the winding blacktop two-lane road that evening to help them celebrate. In addition, our neighbor Elvi Väänänen came with us as dancing partner for Otto. My cousin Lempi came from New York to celebrate with her father and new stepmother, and Olga’s daughter Helen came, too. By this time Lempi and Larry had broken up.
The hall was packed on the hot summer night as a lively Finn band got everybody dancing wildly and the floor of the hall shook for a joyous, spirited evening that still registers graphically in my memory. Soon a graver time overtook us.
The Winter War
In the summer of 1939, World War II Nazi Germany attacked Poland and conquered it within weeks, while Soviet Russia came in and took the Eastern part of the hapless country. It was the opening gun of a massive conflagration that affected our live until 1945. I don’t intend to dwell on the general history of this period as it’s well known and documented. The Hitler-Stalin Pact shook up a lot of the pro-Soviet left and brought about many CP resignations. This cynical pact served the immediate needs of both parties and did not last.
A secret addenda to this pact gave Eastern Poland, the Baltic States and Finland into the Soviet sphere of influence. So the Soviet Union used this interim to shore up its defenses against its new “partner” by getting the Baltic countries to allow it to establish military bases within them, a prelude to bringing Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania totally under Stalin’s oppressive rule.
To increase its military advantages north and east of the Gulf of Finland, in 1939 it demanded territory from Finland to accomplish that purpose. Stalin wanted a chunk of the Karelian Isthmus to move the Finnish border further north from Leningrad from Terijoki, a Gulf resort city, a stone’s throw from that great northern capital. They also wanted a naval base at the port of Hanko to control the naval waters on both north and south coasts of the Gulf. They did offer some territory in eastern Karelia as compensation.
But the negotiators of the Finnish center-left government, led by the Agrarian and Social Democratic Parties didn’t want to have their territorial integrity disrupted and were fearful that Finland could suffer the fate of their Baltic neighbors. The Russians did make some ominous military threats to pursue their goals that Finnish Foreign Minister Elias Erkko thought were heavy-duty bluffing and that they wouldn’t invade without issuing a formal ultimatum. The Finns knew they had no chance of taking on the Russians militarily although they partly mobilized But they still hoped through their perseverance that Russia might modify its demands. But the game tightened. The Finnish government was prepared to accede to the demands but wanted to save face, as they feared their own people would rebel if they were to give in too easily, and would only back down in the case of a formal military ultimatum. This interpretation came though relatively recent findings of eminent Finnish historian Heikki Ylikangas.
But the ultimatum never came For Stalin and his foreign minister V.M. Molotov were no gentlemen diplomats. Instead Stalin unilaterally declared that a government of Finnish exiled communists living in Russia, led by wily Finnish Comintern bureaucrat Otto Ville Kuusinen, that he himself established by fiat, was the only legitimate Finnish government he would negotiate with which he seated at Terijoki. And then, Russia attacked with massive military force with which they threatened to take over all of Finland.
As we know, the Finns resisted bravely for several months until they no longer could hold the line and were forced into a difficult armistice. They lost a good part of Karelia where my family originated, including the loss of the major cities of Viipuri, Sortavala and Käkisalmi as well as occupation of the port of Hanko. The USSR had shelved the puppet Kuusinen government in Terijoki and had negotiated the shotgun armistice with the duly elected Finnish government.
The Finnish government evacuated the population of Karelia when the war ended in March, 1940. They were resettled in other parts of Finland.
My mother’s immediate family, her half sister and half-brothers and stepmother were already living on Helsinki when the war broke out. They knew what bomb shelter life was like with Red Army planes bombing Helsinki. Uncles Toivo and Eino were mobilized and sent to the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Isthmus. Eino served on the front lines in the infantry and Toivo with the artillery. Although Toivo had been involved with the Communists, he nevertheless was at the front fighting with the rest of them. Uncle Eino was wounded, losing several fingers of one hand and was demobilized. He later received physical rehabilitation and eventually got a job as a lift truck operator through the auspices of the war veterans’ programs.
My father’s family was around Helylä and they were all evacuated at the war’s conclusion. My late Uncle Pekka’s daughters and their families settled in Lahti in South Central Finland. My Aunt Maija and her family ended up north in Oulu. Her daughter Lempi married a Finnish soldier from Salla in Lapland named Voitto Jaakkonen and after the war they settled in Kemijärvi in Finnish Lapland.
My remaining bachelor uncle Juho Siitonen missed the last evacuation train from the Sortavala area as he was off driving some dairy cows into the forest to try to keep them from falling into Russian hands. When he got back everybody else from the neighborhood had entrained and left. The Russian army was already about five kilometers away. So Juho commandeered an abandoned horse and hooked it up to a wagon and fled north following the Finnish forces. He drove the team all over Southern Finland trying to find Pekka’s family, working odd jobs along the way for sustenance. Finally, one day he showed up in Lahti and moved in with Pekka’s second oldest daughter Elvi who had married a man named Pajunen. They had two daughters, one of whom had died in infancy, the other named Anneli became great pals with my Uncle Juho who had no children of his own.
American Finns responded with alarm to the war and Finland and its aftermath and launched huge relief drives to send food, clothing and money to the Finnish people. Probably the most influential leader of these drives was Oskari Tokoi, the exiled social democratic first prime minister of Finland, still under a Finnish death sentence for being part of the Finnish Red government during the Civil War and now an editor of Raivaaja.
American Finns from all over the country, politically from left to right, church, labor and business joined in this relief work with the exception of the hard core Finnish Stalinists who supported the USSR and the Kuusinen puppet regime.
WESTMINSTER RELIEF DRIVES
The Westminster Finnish farmers did more than their share in fundraising, with programs organized by various committees from our United Farmers Coop Local at the Town Hall. My parents were very much involved in this relief work. They also sent packages of coffee, sugar, clothes and other staples to both of my parents’ relatives in Finland. I well remember all those benefits that were held at the Town Hall. These included speeches, music, song and poetry. My sister Irma had been taking piano lessons from Antti Palen, an old Socialist musician and composer from Fitchburg who also taught instrumental music to children. She played a couple of pieces at one of these benefits which was reported in Raivaaja.
We also had some American and Canadian Finnish volunteers who went to serve in the Finnish Army during the Winter War. One of these was my namesake Harry Wintturi from Princeton Road, son of my parents’ Old Farm neighbors William and Tekla Wintturi. He and most of the other volunteers never got to the front lines before the war ended.
There was one incident connected with this war period in early 1940 that greatly disturbed my parents. One day I picked up a letter from the mailbox addressed to my parents in crude black hand lettering. Inside was a crude caricature of Marshal Mannerheim, who was charged as a lahtari, or “butcher” for the killing fields of the Finnish Civil War when thousands of Red Guards were slaughtered in 1918. It suggested that my parents were toadies of Mannerheim for their Finnish relief work. There was no signature as it was an anonymous mailing. This angered my parents enormously, particularly my father. He was no lover of Mannerheim as the Finnish Whites were responsible for the deaths of his brothers Matti and Pekka. As it was, the Winter War was not instigated by Mannerheim, who was commander of the Finnish armed forces and who thought such a war would be folly, although the country should be prepared for one if attacked. The Finnish government of this period which set the policies for Finland was Center-Left politically. It wasn’t this government which initiated the war but it was a Soviet military attack despite all Finnish efforts to avoid war. We never knew who sent the crude flyer.
Another incident related to the war was the arson attempt that destroyed Holmes Park at the Westminster Gardner border, which was the gathering place of the pro-communist Finns of the area. One night somebody torched it burning the dance hall to the ground. No one was ever arrested for it, but it probably was done by someone very upset by the Russian attack on Finland. The pro-CP Finns were very upset by this loss, for which there was no excuse if we respect civil liberties of all dissident groups, whatever their politics.
THE NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR
The summer of 1940 marked my first visit to New York City. This was at the time of the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 in Flushing Meadow, Long Island. All the New England Finns were excited about the Finnish Pavilion at the fair site. Erik Walling, the son of Anna (Walling) Warjo, an old Quincy friend now living in Cresskill, New Jersey, was the manager of the Finnish Pavilion. Westminster Finns who had visited the fair in the summer of 1939 gave it rave reviews.
In 1939 the Soviet Union, which had a huge, expensive pavilion at the fair, was lauded to the skies by the pro-Communist Finns who visited it, and whose blind illusions about the USSR put them into a state of denial about the Stalinist purges and terror of the 1930s. The 1929-40 Winter War against Finland gave the USSR such bad world-wide publicity that Russia dismantled its pavilion for the 1940 season.
So in 1940 we decided to go as family to the World’s Fair. But being a farm family, we couldn’t leave the poultry to fend for itself. So my mother and Irma went first on a bus for a two-week period and stayed in Cresskill with our old friends Maiju and Heikki Kohonen and saw a lot of them as well as the Rauts and the Warjos. The Warjos by then had a young daughter Edith who became pals with my sister. They had plenty of chances to visit the Fair. My father and I stayed home to take care of the farm.
When they came back, my father fired up our 1936 Pontiac and off we went for six days. I was wide-eyed during the trip, seeing the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut as the seventh wonder of the world. Another treat was crossing the Hudson River over the George Washington Bridge from Yonkers to the New Jersey shore.
We, too, stayed with the Kohonens and visited with the other Cresskill Socialist Finns. Heikki had a day off from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and we went to the Fair on two days. The second day Pappa and I traveled to Flushing Meadow by bus and subway, another first-time treat for me. I was 14 and on the first days I wandered a lot around the Fair by myself as Pappa and Heikki spent a lot of time at the Finnish Pavilion bar. The bartender was the son of another old Quincy Finn. Toward evening, I remember us stopping at an outdoor terrace bar and saw my father unusually relaxed and unworried, relaxed. He whistled and cheered the stripper on the stage and I saw in him a lighter side I never noticed before. We drove back to New Jersey over the Triborough Bridge from Long Island and I had to give directions as Heikki was a bit tippled. Luckily we made it back to Cresskill in one piece.
On our public transit trip, Pappa and I went by subway and El to the Bronx to visit an old girl friend of Pappa’s. On the El trip I saw Yankee Stadium for the first time. I can’t remember the woman’s name except as Elsa. She was now married to another immigrant Finn. It was an old tenement building and for the first time in my life I saw cockroaches, which were crawling up and down the walls of the sitting room.
We also visited the famous Finnish Fifth Avenue Socialist Hall in Finnish Harlem at 125th St. and 5th Avenue and had dinner in its dining room. The Raivaaja had a NY branch office at the Hall, managed by Mikko Lyytikäinen, its New York area editor.
So my big New York adventure was a fitting close to the summer before entering the 9th grade in Westminster.
FINISHING JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
In the Fall of 1940, I started 9th grade, my graduating year at Phillip H. Loughlin Junior High School. Our principal was Maurice P. Billings, who was also our homeroom teacher. After 9th grade graduation, most Westminster students were destined to attend Fitchburg High School, bussed from Westminster by the Flanagan Bus Line. Some opted to go to either Worcester Boys’ Trade School or Worcester Girls Trade School (then separate schools.)
Some, especially boys, planned to drop out of school altogether after the 9th grade. In our junior high school career track, we chose between the college preparatory option or the commercial curriculum. For no particular reason I ended up on the commercial track. By this time my father saw that I had no great interest in farming and thought perhaps I should point toward some trade. After all, we were still in the Depression and it was important to have educational tools for a viable sustenance.
My eighth grade teacher Signe Antila told my mother I should have taken the college orientation as I was the top student in her class and was college material. Some of our friends said there was no security in that, that I should go to trade school and learn a trade. Our good friends William and Lempi Nelson on Hooper street in Worcester said a boy should study machine shop as that’s where the future would be. William Nelson worked at the Norton Machine Tool plant in Worcester which was beginning to get government defense contracts and was hiring machinists and tool and die makers. I had little mechanical and technical aptitude and that would have been a mistake, in afterthought.
Some of our Westminster Finn kids had gone to Worcester Boys’ Trade. Notable were the Kamila brothers, Friedolf, Rudolph, and Adolph (Ardie to most) who had taken machine shop and had gone on to become tool and die makers. Walter Engman, from the Whitmanville district, was also taking machine shop.
So, I ended up applying to Worcester Trade with a machine shop first preference and a print shop second. Actually hanging around Raivaaja motivated me to think about printing as a choice as typesetting did appeal to me. I even dreamed of someday becoming a Raivaaja printer, and the fact that its compositors belonged to the International Typographical Union appealed to my growing trade union consciousness.
After all, I was bilingual so my Finnish skills would come in handy as that then all-Finnish newspaper published six days a week at the time. Besides, Worcester Trade did have required classes in basic academic subjects, English, math, history and civics to meet state high school graduation requirements.
I don‘t remember whether I took an aptitude test or not. But as it was, I was selected to my second choice, printing, which was fortunate for me.
The final school year at Westminster went fast. In the fall of 1940, the U.S. Presidential elections came up again. Of course I was all for an unprecedented third term for FDR, my hero. He was up against Wendell Willkie, a former Democrat and a moderate Republican, who claimed to do a better job with the New Deal than did Roosevelt. The fear of a third term affected many voters which reflected in more of our class turning toward Willkie, though not a majority. We all wore buttons of our choice candidate to class. I remember a couple of schoolyard chants that developed during the campaign :
“They say that a horse’s tail is silky, lift it up and you’ll see Willkie.” Or, “They say that a horse’s tail is velvet, lift it up and you’ll see Roosevelt.” Intelligent political discourse! Of course, FDR was re-elected.
In the spring of 1941, our ninth grade put on a school play in which I played the father of one of the most beautiful girls in our class, Beatrice Reynolds, from Whitmanville, on whom I had a slight crush which I never dared to reveal. I don’t remember anything about the play except I wore a suit and had a gray fake moustache and gray-tinted hair. I was in love with our Finn hall stage, so was delighted to be acting myself, which I didn’t do again until 1951.
So, graduation came and I was given an award as the top student in the class academically. A basic right of passage had been achieved.
And the clouds of war were looming over the horizon as the “Phony War” ended as Hitler took over most of the Western European continent, with the United Kingdom standing alone across the Channel, Roosevelt, a strong supporter of the Allies, stepped up Lend Lease assistance to England and tensions increased progressively toward an eventual entry of the U.S. into World War II
WORCESTER TRADE SCHOOL
In the fall of 1941, life began at Worcester Trade with most of my Westminster classmates of nine years going on to Fitchburg, High. It was a long commute from Westminster, about 18 miles from our house to Lincoln Square. We had a choice. Either we take the Flanagan’s Bus Line to Worcester and the Town of Westminster would pay for our transit, or if we went in a private car pool, the Town would pay us $2.50 a week to pay our pool driver.
Walter Engman drove his car and I signed on as one of his passengers. Our Westminster crew included: Walter, machine shop,: Charlie Reed, brick masonry; and Onni “Ernie” Niemi, machine shop, a Finn kid from Whitmanville, whose father “Iso Kalle” (Big Charlie) Niemi was a farmer, who I’d seen working with a shovel on the roads as a WPA worker. We also picked up Frank Wiggins along the way in Princeton who was an aspiring plumber. It was usually a fun ride, as we were all young and lively. On the way home we’d stop at the general stores in both Oakdale and East Princeton and flirt with the teen girls usually sitting and waiting for us every afternoon on the store steps. I was terribly shy as was Ernie, so Walt and Charlie did most of the clowning
My mother would usually pack a gargantuan lunch for me: Four sandwiches, heavily buttered , with lunchmeat, a piece of pie and a thermos of milk I rapidly became overweight, becoming an obese lad with acne all over my back and face, and at 17 ending up weighing 227 pounds, with a hanging gut. So I was terribly self-conscious. Later on when Walter graduated I began riding the Flanagan’s bus to school, waiting at Worcester and the Lake Roads with cold icy winds blowing during winter early in the morning.
I wanted to go out for football at Worcester Trade and could have gotten a later bus home following afternoon practice. But my mother objected, saying it was too rough a sport and I could get hurt. Eddie Muhonen, Helmi’s younger son, had played football at Fitchburg High and had either lost some teeth or broken a leg, I can’t remember which.
CLASSES AT TRADE
The format for classes at Trade was one 40-hour week of shop work and an alternating week of academic subjects, which included a class in printing theory. We learned to set type by hand from the California job case, letter by letter, and generally learned letterpress printing with exposure to both the composing room and presswork. The earliest one was allowed to practice on the Linotype typesetting machine was in the sophomore year. My aptitude and interest was toward typesetting rather than presswork and I was encouraged to pursue the former.
Our shop instructor was Alphonso Lucius Rand, or A. L. Rand as he signed off, but as was his own preference we called him Al, instead of Mr. Rand. A fascinating guy, he was a World War I veteran who had fought in France. He was a gregarious, hearty fellow who enjoy both us boys and his work teaching us. He was also a poet and an aspiring songwriter He’d often call on us to critique his poems as well as song lyrics to see how they sounded to us. He loved to recite from Romantic Era poets to us like Shelley and Keats His favorite poem of all was Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village”, and he had us all memorize it as a condition of graduation from the printing department. I can only remember the first line of one of his own poems he struggled over: ”Fair typist seated at thy keys…” Al was an easy guy to confide in and he’s always offer sympathetic advice for our problems we’d confide to him about. One problem, Al also had a weakness for booze and he’d often be hung over and smelling of his previous night’s drinking episodes. But he remained one of my all-time favorite teachers.
The head of the printing department was William L. Sullivan, a red-faced, white-haired Irishman, who gave us instruction in printing theory. Unlike Al Rand, we always called him “Mr. Sullivan”. Sullivan was the long-time secretary of the Worcester Typographical Union local, in which capacity he functioned also while teaching at Trade. At that time the Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette newspaper was an ITU shop in its composing room. Being pro-union, the ITU was of immediate interest to me as I aspired to become a Raivaaja printer with an ITU working card in my wallet.
Later when Sullivan retired during my school years at Trade, Al Rand became department head and a feisty little job printer named Jack Gallagher became our shop instructor, another decent guy.
There were thirteen different trades taught at our school during those years, besides printing there were: machine shop, pattern-making, cabinet-making, carpentry, painting and decorating, welding, plumbing, bricklaying, sheet metal, auto mechanics and drafting. Drafting was only offered to high school graduates, although mechanical drawing was compulsory for all of us during academic week.
Worcester itself was a large industrial city, the second largest in the state after Boston, and then had a population of around 80,000. It was strongly blue collar but was also a university city. These institutions included: Worcester Polytech, Clark University, Worcester` State Teachers College, Holy Cross and Assumption Colleges.
For students of American radical history, Worcester was where young anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman operated a small ice cream parlor in 1891, and hearing of the exploitation of steelworkers on strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, it was there that the attendat was decided for Berkman to shoot Henry Frick, the top capitalist at the Homestead Works. Later in their lives they no longer accepted the “propaganda of the deed” as the way anarchists should go. Fortunately, Frick survived the shooting. Worcester was also the birthplace of the late Abbie Hoffman, the Yippie new left rebel of the 1960s.
Worcester was a multi-ethnic and racial city, with the progeny of 19th, early 20th century immigrants helping make up the diversity of students at Trade. Besides some of us Finns, there were Italians, Armenians, African-Americans, Irish, Greeks, Syrians, Germans, Russians, French-Canadians and others, mostly from families of Worcester’s working class. It was Depression time and there were a lot of tough kids at Trade, so it was termed by some as one step away from a reform school. Some of the students were rebels who didn’t fit into the academic high schools as incorrigible “disciplinary” problems and were shipped off to Trade to camp out until at least age 16 when they could legally quit school. So we had our share of schoolyard fights and violence, although this was not true of the majority of students. I made a lot of friends and got along well with my peers, including the tough guys.
CONTINUE NEXT COLUMN
Some of my good friends in the printing department were Timmy Mylott from Fitchburg who later became secretary of the Fitchburg Typographical Union, Laval Remy from Leominster and Robert Rice from Ashland who specialized in presswork. . My closest friend was William (Bill) Mason, whose father was a Linotype operator at the Worcester Telegram and an ITU member. Bill’s mother was a daughter of the Harrington family, old Yankee farmers in Westminster. While we were at Trade, the Masons, who also included Bill’s younger brothers Robert and Benjamin, moved from the Greendale district in Worcester to the Harrington family farm in Westminster. So I traveled to school with Bill on the bus and we became good friends.
I did very well in my academic classes: English, history, math, physics, and social studies but was a “C” student in mechanical drawing which was wasted on me. Eventually I became editor of Trade Winds, the school monthly student magazine, for which I set the type myself often on the Linotype, hand-composed some of the display ads, and made up the hot metal pages. So besides printing which eventually brought me my main livelihood, it was at Trade that I got first involved with a lifetime of writing and editing experience.
On June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa, to fulfill his imperial dream of lebensraum (living space to the East) doctrine, advanced in Mein Kamph, thus not unexpectedly breaking the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Not worried about an attack from England and with the rest of Western Europe under his control, the Nazi juggernaut marched into Russia, with Finland as an uneasy military ally. Which ostensibly wanted to win back its ceded territory in old Finnish Karelia. Thus Finland became Germany’s only World War II ally with a democratic parliamentary political system. Finland’s official position has always been that it was fighting a separate war from that of the Nazis, but pre-invasion military collaboration between the two countries does not make this argument very convincing.
There was constant collaboration between the military staffs of the two countries before the attack and Germany had rearmed the Finnish forces during the interim period following the Winter War. The Luftwaffe flew out of Finnish airfields at the start of the conflict as it bombed Soviet emplacements along the Baltic coast. Finland had given Germany permission to position a formidable army in Northern Finland to attack Russia from the north. Finnish troops attacked from the southern sector. The Finns did more than stop at the old borders of the territory they had given up at the end of the Winter War but fought their way deep into Soviet Karelia which included the occupation of Petrozavodsk, the Karelian capital on the western shore of Lake Onega. There was considerable opposition in Finland to going further than the old border
Six antiwar leftwing SDP leaders called the Kuutoset (The Six) were imprisoned for the duration of the war to 1944 for openly opposing Finnish entry into the war alongside the Nazi army. They included MP K. H. Wiik, an SDP old-timer and a democratic Marxist who had been the Party’s national secretary for ten years, 1926-1936.
And I’m not convinced that there weren’t pro-fascist elements in the Finnish ruling class and government who were gung-ho in joining the war as allies of the Nazis. Such elements existed in the Finnish officer corps, which included veterans of the Greater Finland push into Russian Karelia just after the conclusion of the Finnish Civil War and longed to put that project back on the agenda. There was definite collusion between VALPO, the Finnish state police and the Gestapo. The pro-fascist Lapua movement which tried to take power at the start of the previous decade now had as its parliamentary successor, the Isänmaan Kansallisliike (IKL), the Patriotic Peoples League, which had a bloc of MPs.
The military resistance by Finland in the Winter War was justifiably necessary to preserve the country’s independence. But was this new Continuation War, as it was called, necessary, especially when it had as its component the right wing Greater Finland ambition? (Of course, the official position of penetrating deep into Karelia was justified as a defense measure militarily.) It’s a terrible thing being sandwiched in between two hideously oppressive totalitarian great powers, but at the very least, might it not have been better not to have engaged in small-time imperial adventures beyond securing Finland’s old borders? More so, would Finland’s independence have been more endangered if it hadn’t become involved in this unholy alliance altogether and tried to stay out of the war altogether?
UNCLE TOIVO‘S FATE
England and also Canada by extension now considered Finland a military enemy, and while the United states did not, all communication including mail was cut off with Finland. We did not hear from or about our dear Finnish relatives until 1944 when Finland made a separate peace with Russia. When the war started there was a roundup of Finnish communists, both men and women, who were thought to be members of the long-outlawed Finnish Communist Party but who had fought for Finland during the Winter War now they ended up in prisons or in labor camps. This happened to my maternal uncle Toivo Saikkonen. (In 2003 I found Uncle Toivo’s VALPO dossier in the Finnish National Archives, and learned for the first time that he had done prison time during the early 1930s Lapua period, allegedly for “treason“ On what grounds? Basically, that VALPO had found communist newspapers and flyers in his apartment in Helsinki which was then considered a “treasonable‘ charge. Today, the Finnish CP is legal and publishes newspapers and can run candidates for public office. This early story of his I only found out when I procured his dossier.) Toivo had fought in the Winter War as a soldier in the Finnish artillery on the Mannerheim Line This time around he was thrown into a labor camp.
We found out after the war that he had ended up clearing swamp with water up to his waist, had gotten ill and had died of its consequences in a prison hospital in 1943 at only age 37.
My mother thought Toivo was naïve in giving his trust to the Suomen Kommunistinen Puolue (SKP), the Finnish CP, and in his erroneous belief that the Soviet Union was a genuine workers’ republic. But he was a sincere Marxist workingman who had fought for a better life for workers, as he understood it, and for that he paid a severe price.
So for the next four years our concern for Finland and for the horrors of World War II were foremost in our lives and thoughts on a daily basis.
The excitement of beginning my trade school education in the ancient, honorable craft of printing was soon eclipsed by World War II reaching American shores with the explosive Japanese military attack on Pearl Harbor. On the evening of December 7, 1941 we were at home entertaining some guests. Charles (Kalle) Pelto and his wife Martha, who was the oldest daughter of our old family friends from the Narrows district of Westminster, John (Jussi) Saarela. Jussi (originally Kuokkanen) had been a primary school chum of my father’s in Helylä. We had our Philco radio on while we were sitting around the dining room table drinking coffee and eating pulla and other pastries.
Out of nowhere came the radio news bombshell that Japanese planes had rained havoc on the American naval base of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Our lives would never be the same again. Many decades later when I ran into Charles Pelto in Fitchburg again, he reminded me of that fateful evening around our dinner table in Westminster,
Soon we were in the thick of a war not only with Japan but with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, the other major Axis powers. The Selective Service draft was on and millions up millions of young men and women became part of the U/S. armed forces. A lot of second generation Finns from Westminster went off to war. Wayne (Waino) Friberg, son of John and Wilhelmina Friberg on the North Common had enlisted in the Canadian Air Force prior to US entry into the war, whereupon he transferred to the US Army Air Corps as an officer. He was one of the first Westminster men killed when his bomber was shot down over Western Europe.
I was only 15 at the time but saw many of my older trade school colleagues go into the military upon their graduation and earlier. We wondered how long the war would last and my parents were worried that I’d be drafted, too, when I came of age.
Everything we did was overshadowed by war. We continued to do all the activities in the Finnish community that we’d always done, but now came gas and tire rationing to pose limits in getting around. But since farming was our main livelihood our gas and tire allowances were more liberal. But the war snapped the back of the Depression. War plants opened up as did jobs. A number of Westminsterites got jobs at the Norton Machine Works in Worcester and there was overtime and no lack of jobs elsewhere.
DOWN ON THE FARM
On the farm we had been loaded down with monumental debts in trying to expand our poultry operation but all of a sudden everything began to look up. Probably a luck of the draw but our incurring debt for expansion proved timely. Many thousands of soldiers were processed through Fort Devens in nearby Ayer. And the mess halls needed eggs to feed them. So through a broker who had contracted with the Army, Fort Devens took all the eggs we could produce and paid well for them. So our debts began to dwindle and for the first time we could make a decent living on farm production alone.
As I grew stronger, I began to pitch more into the farm work though I had no real interest in chicken farming. We had no outside help after Uncle Otto left, so it was my father, mother and myself who shared the load. Many an evening was spent in our cellar, weighing sorting and crating eggs for the morning pickup by the jobber. On the single egg weighing machine we had, only one egg could be weighed at a time, but it was amazing how efficiently and rapidly we trained our hands to move.
On one or two summers, my father would buy several hundred chicks for me to raise as broilers. Designating one poultry house as my responsibility, in a last-ditch effort to generate my interest in poultry farming. He’d pay for all the feed my flock consumed and when time came to market the broilers, I got to keep all the money they brought. Though I did what the project required, my heart wasn’t really in it.
The United Farm Workers’ Westminster Local tried to inspire the cooperative spirit among its nearly adult children. One of the methods was to form the Young Co-opers’ Club which would meet a couple of times a month at our Westminster Co-op Local’s camp. I was part of this and it was my first involvement as an activist in the co-op movement. But most of the time we spent shooting darts and teasing the girls in the club. Scant attention was spent toward studying the Rochdale principles of consumer and producer cooperation. We were young and high-spirited so what else could our parents expect? I don’t remember the club lasting more than a year, if that.
FITCHBURG HALL ACTIVITY
We still continued our New England Summer festivals in Saima Park and performed stage plays at Saima Hall in Fitchburg. Among the actors I recall Oskari Räsänen and his wife Fanni, Kalle and Laura Tuikka, Lauri Hallfors, and Hugo and Lillian Erickson who sang in musicals. We had our younger stars of the second generation of whom I can remember the talented Miriam Lehto, who was also a fixture later on the English-speaking community stage in Fitchburg as an actor and director. Eddy Hagelberg, who workrd for the dairy co-op in Fitchburg, was the handsome male lead in many plays. After the`war Eddy and his wife Bertha moved to Berkeley, California and for many years was manager of the hardware and variety stiore of the Berkeley Co-op, and was an active member of the Berkeley Kaleva Lodge 21 and its Brotherhood Hall (as it was then called) on Chestnut Street.
Meantime, Uncle August was forced to close his bakery in Connecticut because his workforce was either drafted into the Army or left to work in the war industry which could pay much better wages than the bakery could provide. Rationing made it difficult to get sufficient baking supplies and to maintain the trucks for his delivery routes.. So he shut down the bakery and also built a poultry farm like we did, in Moosup, which he continued to operate until his retirement in his early 70s.
HANGING OUT AT RAIVAAJA
Saturdays we spent shopping in Fitchburg as usual, With my interest in printing, I would hang out more at Raivaaja. I’d circulate in the composing room talking to the printers, until finally the foreman chased me out for interrupting their work. I’d also spend time in the pressroom downstairs and press foreman Fabian Raatikainen would give me a copy of the Saturday Raivaaja, just hot off the press.
Sometimes I’d chat with Oskari Tokoi as I passed his editorial office, who had been Finland’s first de facto prime minister as a Social Democrat. He had been part of the Finnish Red Government during the Civil War and had fled the country to Russia when the Whites won. He still then had a death sentence hanging over his head from the Finnish government, as well as from the Soviet government for falling out with the Bolsheviks during his Russian exile. He’d eventually come to the United States via Britain and Canada to accept an editor’s position on Raivaaja. I told him about my ambition to become a union printer and he always encouraged me in his soft, kindly, fatherly way.
Mamma’s and Pappa’s 25th Anniversary
In 1942, my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. It was the custom of the Westminster Finns to organize a surprise party and dance at the Town Hall for all couples in the community who had an important marital anniversary coming up. In those days, there was even a rare golden wedding celebration, but most fell in the silver 25-year category. These would generally be held on a Saturday evening. The honored couple would be encouraged to come to the Town Hall on some other pretext, and –- surprise!
All the Westminster Finnish families would be sitting in the auditorium ready to greet the honorees. There’d be a complete program, including instrumental music, singing, poetry, and a guest speaker. The feature poem would be in form of a couplet, especially written for the occasion, reciting the history of the couple being celebrated. The top couplet writer in Westminster was Lempi Snellman from the Whitmanville district. People would furnish her the facts about the couple and then she’d write their story in poetic form and recite it. They were usually quite clever and full of humor and the audience loved them.
Another popular feature was a mock re-creation of the` couple’s original wedding ceremony in cross-dressing drag. The bridegroom would usually be a short, stout woman, and the bride a tall man. The man would be wearing a wedding gown and a ridiculous bridal veil, and the women a man’s oversized suit. Then another vaudeville type comic character would pompously pronounce the wedding vow. It was complete farce, with fumbling and dropping of the rings, which was very clever and funny, and the most popular part of the evening’s program.
Then everyone would adjourn into the downstairs dining area for coffee, cake, and all the trimmings. Then everyone would return upstairs to dance the rest of the evening away, with a Finnish dance band , usually made up from the local Farmers Co-op second-generation youth.
Then names would be gathered from all attendees who would contribute 50 cents apiece to publish a nice congratulatory display ad in Raivaaja, listing everyone who was present at the fete. These were one of the most favorite social activities of the Farmers’ Co-op members and friends.
When my parents‘ turn came, our featured speaker was the aforementioned Oskari Tokoi, who was an excellent speaker and eulogist in his quiet, sympathetic style. He spoke well of my parents, citing their hard work as immigrants in their new land, and their share in building a better community and world. He gave a written copy of his speech to my parents after finishing. I guess our copy got lost in the shuffle over the ensuing decades.
I recall my father getting up and speaking in response for the family. He said that when they first married, he had been a promising Greco-Roman wrestler and had thought of turning professional. But that his bride wouldn’t hear of it. But, then he said, the real wrestling match began and it took him nearly ten years to win first prize, namely me, the first-born. Everybody roared, except for my mother who blushed.
Attending the fete, besides people from Westminster and the area, were old family friends from Worcester, Norwood and Quincy, as well as August and Olga from Connecticut.
In 1943 and 1944, I was editor of Trade Winds our monthly student magazine. I would often do my copy-editing and corrections while setting the articles on the Linotype machine. In my final year, I was also acting editor of our senior yearbook after Warren Rand, Al Rand’s nephew, left for the Navy before the end of the school year. My academic grades were also top-rate during those years. I still have my yearbook but discarded my file of Trade Winds many years ago, in my many moving operations.
NO MUSICAL TALENT
My sister took ballet lessons on Saturdays in Fitchburg from Elsie Laurila for a couple of years, and then switched to piano lessons given by Antti Palen. Palen was an old Socialist orchestra leader and composer who lived in a room upstairs from Mustonen’s Kapakka (Saloon) on the Upper Common of Fitchburg, in which he gave his music lessons for 25 cents a session. Oftentimes, after class he would go downstairs to Mustonen’s and buy a beer with it. Irma learned to play quite decently and for $50 we bought a used upright piano to practice on. Occasionally she’d play at school recitals and at Farmers’ Co-op social evenings. I had no musical instrument talent whatsoever, and after four failed violin lesson s in the fifth grade I never tried to play an instrument again.
WAR YEARS INTENSIFY
The war loomed ever larger in our lives as more Westminster men and women were drafted or enlisted. Eugene and George Niemi both joined the Navy. Harry Wintturi had enlisted in the Winter War in Finland as a volunteer, but never saw action. Now he was in the U.S. Army in the tank corps. His youngest sister Helvi Wintturi, who was a graduate of Fitchburg State Teachers College, became an officer in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).. Edwin (Oiva) Karvonen joined the Army Air Force and became a pilot. His sister Ellen Karvonen joined the WAVES, the Navy’s female branch. Edwin Muhonen also became an Air Force pilot. Lempi Tuomi became an Army nurse.
Our Westminster ration board became as much a part of our lives as did the draft board. Because we were farmers we had a larger gasoline ration as our car was essential to farm work
It was possible for farm youth to get a draft deferment with the importance of farm work in the wartime economy. Yet labor shortages loomed in many fields due to the draft and the booming war industry with its higher wages being more attractive to available workers. Women were increasingly a part of the labor force previously dominated by men.
I helped neighboring farmers doing harvest work besides helping out at home. I remember the talkoot or work bees, in which co-op members would help each other out during haying season. I worked in the haying and storing of the hay in the barn loft on the nearby Laine farm. Being the kid of the lot, I’d be on top of the horse-drawn hay wagon, distributing and tamping down the hay load. They also sent me up to the loft as the farmers pitched hay up there from the wagon for me to spread out and tamp down.
It was all volunteer labor and Mrs. Laine would feed us a large lunch as well as coffee and pulla .on the breaks. I remember that John Laine paid me $2 for a day’s work, the only one in the crew who was paid. I did the same on the Karvonen farm on the mountainside on Carter Road. Ilmari (John) Karvonen paid me $5 a day. I also helped pick apples on the Karvonen farm during the fall harvest. He had a beautiful orchard of Macintosh apple trees.
One fall Saturday when I was 17, Yrjö (George) Lehto had me over to saw some wood, where I spent all day on the electrically-powered two-man saw. George was an ardent socialist and had a reputation as a “rabble rouser” for his spirited, sometime angry, speeches at co-op meetings. But he was true to his calling as a socialist as he believed workers should be well-paid, and he gave me $8 for a day’s work, the largest amount I was ever paid up to that time. George was accused by some of being a communist because of his militant speeches, but he was an ardent Raivaaja supporter, so he was probably more of a left wing socialist, more revolutionary than his comrades, most of whom by that time had settled down to become moderate social democrats as Raivaaja drifted rightwards. In 1950, Yrjö committed suicide by hanging for some unknown reason.
PAPPA AS A CO-OP DISSIDENT
Now that my father had quit the bakery to farm full time and was living at home he took a more active part in the Farmers’ Co-op. He, too, was a militant speaker who hated bureaucracy and political game playing in any form. He was elected for a brief period as the Westminster delegate to the executive committee of the central United Farmers Cooperative in Fitchburg to fill a vacancy. I don’t recall the issues but he was a frequent critic of the Co-op management and was a left minority on the board. In a subsequent regular election for the Westminster delegate an organized faction in the local more in keeping with the central administration deposed him in the voting. My father refused to campaign, saying his record stood for itself. I remember in one meeting debate he said of an opponent in a heated exchange: “I don’t know about you, but when I get up to shave in the morning I see an honest face in the mirror.” So his tenure in the hierarchy of the Co-op was short-lived.
I TAKE A POLITICAL STAND
I did my own share of debating in my civics classes at Worcester Trade. I believe the name of the instructor was Robert (or Richard?) Madaus. When the war began the American labor movement officialdom, both of the newly-formed CIO and the AFL, adopted a national no-strike pledge in exchange for getting union recognition in the war industry. It was said to be unpatriotic for labor to strike because the country was at war. But numerous strikes did take place despite the admonitions of the top officialdom.
John L. Lewis, the pugnacious president of the United Mine Workers union and pivotal in the organization of the CIO, had had a political falling out with Franklin Roosevelt. And Lewis was a powerful contrarian. Politically a conservative and an autocratic leader, he nonetheless had a reputation as a militant in job actions. He detested the conservative president of the AFL, William Green. Lewis once said that Green had never had a head on his shoulders, that his “neck had merely haired over.” In his colorful oratory, Lewis would often quote from Shakespeare and the Bible.
The coal miners chafed at working under onerous conditions, and Lewis led a national coal strike. He was severely condemned by politicians, corporations, patriotic organizations and the press as being a “traitor” and “Nazi collaborator”.
The miners’ strike became a subject of discussion in Madaus’s civics (now called social studies) class. I was the only one in the class who openly argued for John L. Lewis and the miners in their strike. Madaus was a moderate New England-style Republican He was courteous but took issue with me.
So I remember asking him in class something like: “Mr Madaus, if you were a miner working in miserable conditions in the pits, when the union went on strike would you support your fellow miners on the picket line or would you be a strikebreaker? ”He conceded that he would strike with his fellow miners.
This was my first public statement on behalf of organized labor. I became an admirer of John L. Lewis and his union militancy . However as time passed and I learned more, I became less than enchanted by his dictatorial and bureaucratic rule in the UMW, who brooked little dissent from the ranks. My experience with the member democracy of the Finnish socialists and my father’s anti-bureaucratic approach in co-op affairs helped make me a lifelong advocate of rank and file union democracy.
Hanna and Antti –U.S. Citizens
About 1942, my parents decided to apply for their U.S. citizenships. Since neither was all that proficient in English, nor did they have formal knowledge about the workings of the US government that might be asked in their citizenship examinations, they both decided to attend evening adult classes at Westminster’s junior high school. Basic English as well as citizenship preparatory classes were offered at Phillip H. Loughlin. My father, whose English was better than my mother’s, took the citizenship class for starters. Classes were held during the winter months. My mother enrolled in the English language class which she wanted to complete before taking the citizenship class.
These evening classes were their first formal education since their primary school days as children in Finland. They studied hard after the long, hard daytime chores on the farm and I would help them as needed with their homework.
There were other ethnic groups in Westminster but the only students in these evening classes were Finnish farmers and their wives. Since only English was spoken in the classrooms, the men would adjourn to the furnace room downstairs to smoke during their breaks and would discuss farming, the Co-op, politics or the war in Finnish during these interludes. None of the women smoked so they chatted in one of the empty classrooms. There were very few Finnish immigrant women who smoked, but unfortunately most of the men did, which resulted in premature death for a number of them due to nicotine-related causes like cancer, heart attacks, strokes and emphysema.
My parents had not attempted to get their papers during World War I and the years immediately following as they thought they’d be denied because if their socialist views. So they waited until World War II to apply and were accepted and sworn in at the Superior Court in Fitchburg.. My father got his first, on Aug. 17, 1943, but never got the chance to vote before his death on Sept. 27 1944. My mother didn’t get hers until after my father’s death, on Dec. 8, 1944. After my father completed his citizenship class, my mother enrolled in it and my father who was the only one in the family who drove, brought her to class and enrolled in the English as a second language class for himself.
I was always lousy at playing baseball. I couldn’t throw straight, hit (mostly I’d strike out) and bobbled the ball when trying to glove it. So I’d be the last one selected at our lunchtime pickup games at school. In football I was a big heavy lug in our noonday games at tackle, I’d always play the line in defense and plow through the offensive line with my bulk to tackle the ball handler and often I’d be able to bring him down before he could move or throw the ball. On offense I was used to carry the ball over the goal line when we were within five yards or so of it by plowing through the defense line and dragging along about ten kids with me to score. Often we’d play with 20 or so to a side in these pickup games so everybody who wanted would have a chance to play. In basketball I wasn’t too hot in sinking baskets but I was fierce on the rebounds, kicking up and out and snaring the ball as it came off the board more often than not.
But baseball was where this uncoordinated kid wanted to excel. So as compensation I started to track major league baseball. Of course, being a New Englander, my favorites were the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Braves (for a while called the Bees in the 1930s-40s) I stayed glued to the radio listening to the play by play descriptions. I kept track of everybody’s batting average in the major leagues and all the pitching won and lost records. I know which pitchers were right-handers and which were southpaws. I was a veritable walking encyclopedia of baseball trivia when discussing the sport during recesses and lunch periods.
So inevitably I got to go to my first game in Boston to see the Red Sox play. Ted Williams was the star, and I remember Jimmy Foxx at first base, Bobby Doerr at second, Manager Joe Cronin in short and Jim Tabor was at third. Joe Vosmik played left field, Dominic DiMaggio (brother of the Yankees’ Joe) was in center and Williams (“The Splendid Splinter”) played right field. Dom DiMaggio was called the “Little Professor” because he was short, wore glasses.. I can recall Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Grove ending his career with the BoSox, after an illustrious past with the Philadelphia Athletics. .
I guess I had just finished 9th grade the first time I went. Before I left, my mother gave me a stern lecture about the evils of the big city – Boston. “Keep your hand on your wallet (especially around North Station), don’t talk to strangers, don’t step on the third rail in the subway, and don’t eat at greasy spoon restaurants with your allowance.” Just in case my pocket was picked, she sewed a $5 bill somewhere inside of my trouser lining. On the big day, my father drove me to the Boston and Maine railroad depot in Fitchburg to catch the Boston train, We knew the time tables, so he’d be there to pick me up at night when I got back.
At the Fitchburg depot I ran into Carleton Murray and some of his friends from Fitchburg High who were also going to see the Red Sox play so I joined them. Carleton had been a year ahead of me in the Westminster schools and his next younger brother Tommy was my classmate and one of my best friends at school. It was a monumental experience for me at Fenway Park and I enjoyed every moment of the game. I don’t remember if Ted Williams hit a homer that game but that’s what we were rooting for every time he came up to bat.
Since we were all Red Sox fans in Westminster, we all hated the New York Yankees (except for Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio), and always rooted for them to lose, as did almost every other kid in New England. The pin stripers from Yankee Stadium were the perennial American League and World champions, the Red Sox the perennial runner-ups. We despised the Yankees with a passion. “Anybody but the Yankees“ was our battle cry.
So it became a ritual for me to see the Red Sox play once every summer during my Trade School years. Also the Braves/Bees. The Braves were always in sixth or seventh place in the National League, one or two steps above the constant last place team, the Philadelphia Phillies.
I remember Casey Stengel being the Braves’ manager then, who later became the very successful manager of the Yankees. I can’t remember too many Braves’ players except for the catcher Ernie (The Schnozz) Lombardi, a big lumbering ox, who hit a mean home run but was the slowest base runner in the league. It seemed he had to hit at least an off-the-wall double to get to first base without being tagged out. In those years, major league players didn’t have pensions, so years later I remember reading about Lombardi working in some small gas station in Ohio, pumping gas.
I rooted as passionately for the Braves as I did the Red Sox as it suited my lifetime sympathy for the underdogs, the wretched of the earth, and since they then always stood low in the league standings they needed all the fan support they could get. .
Twice a summer was all I could afford to go these games, but outside of my World Fair’s visit, these games were the high points of my summers as a teen. Some of the tab I paid out of my own earnings, some was subsidized by my parents.
Over the years my interest in baseball waned and now I haven’t seen a major league game in well over 30 years. Only the Red Sox American League pennant win in 2004, the first since 1919, and their four-game sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series perked up my interest again monetarily. And it was sweet revenge to see the Sox take the Yankees in the AL playoffs. The only other aspect of baseball that has gotten my attention since has been the doping scandals which have plagued baseball and many other sports in recent years, including my beloved track and field.
MASSACHUSETTS STATE GUARD
With total mobilization going on as the American military participation in World War II increased, the National Guard was federalized into active duty. At least in Massachusetts a state militia was organized as a replacement called the Massachusetts State Guard. Many towns organized MSG companies including Westminster, I believe, in 1942. These consisted of men over draft age, “4-Fs” ( those rejected for military service on physical grounds), those with farm or defense industry deferments and those turned 18 not yet called up.
The captain of the Westminster company was a middle-aged man called Guy Ralph who lived on the Upper Common, and who was as I recall a middle-management figure in a Fitchburg corporation. There were a couple of lieutenants, one a chap named Roper who owned a large poultry farm near the Fitchburg line. George Henstridge, Jr., whose younger brother Roy had been my elementary school classmate who had died of pneumonia when we were in the fourth grade, I remember as the other.
Sometime in 1943, the draft age for active duty was raised to 40. And, President Franklin D. Roosevelt also signed a bill making 18-year-olds eligible for the draft. This upset my father as I was 17 and would reach draft eligibility at 18 in March of 1944. Previously, Pappa had been an admirer of Roosevelt and the New Deal, but now bitterly turned against him. He considered World War II as just another capitalist war. I remember to this day him saying: “I didn’t raise my only son to become cannon fodder for the capitalist munitions makers.” (“En minä kasvattanut ainoaa poikaani kapitalistien tykin ruoaksi.”) And he never forgave FDR.
So the State Guard faced a personnel shortage as more men were being lost to the draft. I remember Maurice Tobin being the governor of Massachusetts at the time who signed a bill making 17-year-olds eligible to join the MSG to help fill its ranks. So a number of my Westminster high school-age friends joined, including close friends like Bill Mason and John (Jussi) Heimo. I was no super-militant patriot and was sympathetic toward socialism and generally opposed wars. I ended up enlisting in the MSG to be with my peers about which my father wasn’t too happy.
I had read articles about American pacifists who were World War II conscientious objectors and who ended up in work camps and prisons around the country. Yet I was sympathetic toward their positions even then and did not consider them “traitors”. Yet I was anti-fascist and felt the Axis powers had to be defeated.
Be that as it may, I rather had fun in the State Guard, it being a new experience for me. In reality it was more of a small town adult game of cops and robbers, bang, bang, and really not much as a fighting force. Yet it did impress people into a military mind-set and made them more gung-ho about the actual war.
MSG’s USEFUL WORK
But the MSG did some useful practical things as a state militia. Like the National Guard, these forces were important in disaster control like with floods and fires.
One such example was a forest and brush fire in the adjacent town of Hubbardston during the summer or fall of 1943. We were mandated to go help fight the fire as local fire departments were overwhelmed. We piled into Westminster town dump trucks and headed to stem the fast spreading fire that evening. My chore was to carry coils of fire hose to the fire line. For a number of years I had suffered from spontaneous nosebleeds because of a thinly lined blood vessel in my nose. The heat and smoke from the fire was intense as I cut through the woods to the fire line where the extension was needed. Because of the heat my nose began to bleed profusely. I deposited the hose as directed and headed back toward base camp by the trucks. The bleeding wouldn’t stop and my handkerch8ief was drenched in blood. I reported to first aid when I got back and was stretched out on the ground as I was too weak to stand Cold wet compresses were applied to my face and neck. The heat and smoke was also intense around the bivouac area.
The MSG officers wanted to bring me to emergency at the Henry Heywood Hospital in the nearby city of Gardner. Unfortunately, a bridge was burnt and there was no direct way to get there. Finally a Guardsman was designated to drive me via a circuitous route to the hospital. I was treated and passed out and slept for a number of hours at the hospital. I don’t know if a transfusion was given or not. Later the MSG notified my parents and they came to pick me up from the hospital although I was in quite a weakened state. But yet I was no worse for the wear and made a quick recovery. But it marked the end of my firefighting days.
Historically the National Guard has received a lot of notoriety because of its use as a strikebreaking agency by state governments to support the employers’ side in labor strife that periodically broke out. Ostensibly it was mobilized to uphold “law and order” and was supposedly neutral., but in practice mostly functioned as a strikebreaking force favoring capital. Since the National Guard had now been mobilized to fight in World War II, the state militias were to play that role in strike situations.
Sometime in the fall of 1943 a strike had broken out in some factory in the Fall River-New Bedford area. This was World War II and there was a national “no strike” policy in place which had been agreed to by the top leaders of both the AFL and CIO. Despite this many hundreds of wildcat strikes broke out all over the country over intolerable working conditions that often prevailed in wartime industry. And the powers-that-be and the media blasted such job actions as unpatriotic and un-American.
Our MSG Westminster company commander announced at our weekly meeting that we could be mobilized to go to the Fall River strike scene and do our military duty. As a stalwart Republican, the captain lambasted the strikers as an ungrateful, un-American lot whose actions only gave comfort to our enemies.
I told my father about the meeting. No, my son is not going to be used for strikebreaking, was his immediate response. Farm work, too, was essential to the war effort and draft deferment was possible for that reason so my father said that if a mobilization call was to take place, he’d keep me home to grab a shovel to clean out the manure in our poultry houses as farm sanitation was important, too, and no outside farm labor was available during this period. That confrontation between these wartime priorities never came to pass as the mobilization order to go to the strike zone was never issued. I don’t remember what the outcome of the strike was.
A CLOSE FRIEND PASSES
In the summer of 1943 my best friend Bill Mason passed away. A few days before his death we had been swimming at the Gate House shore of Wyman’s Pond, and all was fine. Bill was perfectly healthy except for being grossly overweight, as was I then. A few days later I went to our mailbox to pick up our delivery of the Worcester Morning Telegram. There was Bill Mason’s obituary staring me in the face, dead at age 17! I was terribly upset. Apparently he had picked up a streptococcal infection in his throat which killed him quickly, dying at the Gardner hospital.
Since he was in our State Guard company, Bill was entitled to a military funeral. I was asked by his family to be one of the pallbearers. The service was held at the Baptist church in town.. We State Guardsmen were all in uniform and the pastor gave a heavy Baptist sermon. I wasn’t into religion but was restless, uncomfortable, and bored with the whole procedure. My father was sitting in his car outside the open door of the church on this hot summer day. He spotted my restlessness as I was sitting at the end of a pew visible through the door. He remarked proudly afterward that he believed that I’d never be hooked into any kind of religion. He was right.
The burial was at the old Mt. Pleasant Cemetery on Knower Road. The MSG gave Bill a traditional military burial with a gun volley salute. It was my first time as a pallbearer. I lost a great pal.
FOURTH OF JULY, 1943
Another memorable MSG event was the participation of the Guard at the Town’s 1943 Fourth of July Celebration. (Or was it Memorial Day?) It was an extremely hot day and we were profusely sweating in our uniforms. The parade concluded on the grounds of the junior high school for the ceremony. We heard the town band play, and a whole number of patriotic speeches while standing in formation, perspiring, and feet hurting. But the worst stem winder of all was Congressman Phillip H. Philbin (Dem) who represented our District. He was a New Deal Democrat on domestic matters but an extreme jingoistic hawk on military issues and went on and on in a drum-beating stentorian way about the war. We were dying of thirst and boredom. After we dispersed I remember diving into a washtub full of soda pop bottles swimming in ice with a thirst almost impossible to quench.
Philbin’s endless rant turned me off to any kind of strident jingoism although I supported this war against world fascism but his exhortations hardly turned me on toward any rush to the nearest recruiting station. As far as I can recall, I’ve never been an advocate of the “my country right or wrong” thesis. I’m much more in tune with Carl Schurz’s: “My country right or wrong; when right to be kept right, when wrong to be put right.”
Actually, Philbin served this Northern Worcester County district until the 1960s when he was defeated in the Democratic Party primary by a liberal Catholic priest, Fr. Richard Drinan, who was opposed to Philbin’s hawkishness on the Vietnam War. Drinan was elected but had to terminate his Congressional tenure when the Catholic Church enforced a policy that prohibited members of its clergy to hold political office. He was succeeded by Rep. Barney Frank, a liberal gay Democrat who represents the district to this day, being one of the first openly gay members of Congress.
Pappa Gets Sick
Sometime during this summer of 1943, my father came down with some horrid skin disease that medics were never able to diagnose conclusively. He developed ghastly open sores all over his body except for his face that drained some kind of clear liquid and which itched like hell. There was no relief and he tried to work with this drainage sticking to his body and smearing his clothes. He went to all kinds of doctors and dermatologists around Fitchburg to no avail. One guy prescribed some kind of ointment which made it all the worse and more aggravated. Finally, someone recommended the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City which included a leading dermatology clinic. So he went and stayed for six weeks while Mamma and I did the best we could with the chickens.
At first there was little relief for him. The itching and the running sores persisted. Specialists came to see him and there were lectures by his bedside with other doctors and medical students scribbling notes. The torment was so relentless that he told my mother later that he had seriously thought of jumping out of a window of the high-rise hospital but was deterred by the thought he had a young family at home dependent upon him.
Cousin Lempi came to see him upon several occasions from her waitress job in New York City. So did August’s first wife Iita (Ida) Gamble who worked as a restaurant cook. Pappa was less than happy to see his former sister-in-law who claimed she had forgotten her Finnish and talked to him only in English. My father thought she was only pretending not to know it. Lempi, in turn., had problems with her Finnish but she did speak it with my parents.
While Pappa was away, at age 17 I had no driver’s license but did some of the family driving on rural Westminster roads. Johnny Heimo had had helped me to learn to drive sometime earlier. But it was risky business. I even smashed the garage doors trying to drive inside it. When Pappa eventually came home, he repaired them, laughingly dismissing the damage as part of my “driver education”.
I can recall when Irene Tuomi, daughter of Farmers’ Coop activists Axel and Ida Tuomi, married another Westminster farm boy Adolph (Ardy) Kamila, a Worcester Trade machine shop graduate. Their marriage vows were taken at the Congregational Church in the center of town, with a reception and dance following at the Town Hall. We wanted to go so I drove my mother and sister to the top of Academy Hill, from where we walked down the hill into the center. I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of town without a driver’s license. The trip was without mishap.
FARMERS’ COOP ‘TALKOOT’
There were labor shortages all over because of the war. Younger men had been drafted and older and exempted men would take jobs in war industries because the pay was better. So even a large organization like the central warehouse facilities of the United Farmers’ Coop in Fitchburg was short of labor. Several carloads of sacked feed grain were waiting to be unloaded at the railroad siding alongside the coop warehouse. There was no paid help available to do the unloading and it was costing a pretty penny to keep the freight cars tied up at the siding.
So on Fridays, volunteer farmers from the various Co-op locals would do the unloading and the stacking up in the warehouse. One Friday night it was the Westminster Local’s turn. Many of the able-bodied Finnish farmers, then in their fifties or early sixties, came to pitch in on a grueling all-night stint, after doing their own regular farm work during the day. But this was the old socialist co-op spirit of these Finnish farmers coming to the fore in these talkoot or work bees, just like sharing the load during haying season
Since Pappa was away in the hospital, I stood in for our family, a big 17-year-old grossly overweight flabby kid. But I held my own. As I recall, Johnny Heimo was the only other teen-ager. It was hard work as we hoisted the 100-pound sacks onto two wheel trucks and rolled them into the huge warehouse to stack them up. It rained outside all night and a canopy shielded the steel ramp from the freight car to the warehouse platform. Still the ramp got slippery and wet, so it was treacherous going.
I did feel the experience as a sense of accomplishment. I was doing a man’s work and I felt a full-fledged member of the co-op working for the common good. I felt that it was living, grassroots egalitarian socialism. One of the farmers gave me a ride home in the morning and I slept late, with my mother doing most of the chores.
PAPPA COMES HOME
Finally they were able to dry up Pappas’s skin disease at Columbia Presbyterian. They had encased his body with some kind of tar-like goo, in which he lay stretched out like a mummy day in and day out. It was grossly uncomfortable for him. But this did the job. The sores cleared up and never came back. But it did leave ugly, darkened splotches all over his body for the rest of his life. It was never determined what caused this disease, or at least we weren’t told about it. He took the train to Worcester where we met him at the railroad station with Walter Wintturi driving.
But my father was never the same again. It had drained him of a lot of strength and any enthusiasm for life that he might have once had. He grew increasingly gloomy and depressed. But he continued to do the farm work and life went on.
During these war years Westminster, like the other towns, had a civil defense system. A lookout shed was constructed on top of Academy Hill on the Town Common. Volunteers were requested from among the townspeople to stand watch at night, I believe, for one stint every two weeks. Their job was to spot planes, with a telephone and a log book at the lookout station to do the task. Pappa and Ilmari Karvonen volunteered for a regular shift as partners. Nothing ever happened but they did get to play a lot of two-handed card games.
The Navy Beckons
Since I was only technically a junior at Worcester Trade and because I had started there after the ninth grade and was nearing draft age, I would have had to quit a year shy of graduation in the event I was drafted. So I petitioned the school to become a senior and get credit for my academic work as such, provided I completed my shop requirements. I had had excellent academic grades so the promotion was granted to me. Outside of shop, the only classes I was required to take were senior English. math, physics and mechanical drawing. Since practically all of the mechanical drawing classes involved drawing machine parts, this was not all that practical for me as a printing student. So the instructor allowed me to utilize the class for typographical design – creating initial letters and developing art borders related to printing. This made the classes more relevant for me.
I got excellent grades in all my subjects so I handled the senior track with no problems. In the shop I did a lot of work on the Linotype machine. Aa I’ve described before, a lot of this work was on Trade Winds, the monthly student publication which I edited as well as the senior yearbook, editing it while actually doing the typesetting.
Al Rand’s nephew Warren Rand had been appointed editor of the 1944 senior yearbook but since he enlisted in the Navy in the middle of the school year, I became acting editor, promoted from assistant editor. I did a lot of the hand composition and typesetting for it, too. I even went to various businesses in downtown Worcester to solicit advertising for the yearbook and was quite successful in the project.
BEATING THE DRAFT
I would turn 18 on March 18, 1944, and would have to register for the daft then. At that point the government was beginning to draft 18-year-olds as soon as they turned 18, and one didn’t have a choice of what branch of the military into which you’d be inducted – Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard. The only way there‘d be a choice would be through enlistment. Most of my school buddies were opting for the Navy but they would start serving immediately. Among Westminster friends, Eugene and George Niemi both enlisted in the Navy, saying clean Navy bunks were more appealing than muddy foxholes. My old Westminster classmate Bobby Luoma joined the Navy and went into boot camp in February. He had only three weeks in boot camp and was shipped to England to serve on landing crafts in preparation for the Normandy invasion. Bill Jämsä also enlisted in the Navy and was fortunate to be sent to radio school. That appealed to me but since I was given a fast track to graduate from Trade, I didn’t want to enlist and report to boot camp before the school year was finished. Tommy Murray and Johnny Heimo enlisted in the Merchant Marine and went to Sheep’s Head Bay in New York for their basic training. .
THE NAVY COMES THROUGH
Finally the Navy came up with a plan that would work for me. This program allowed one to enlist in the Naval Reserve prior to turning 18 for the duration of the war and six months thereafter, and be placed on inactive duty and allowed to finish the senior year of school. Active duty wouldn’t take place until after the June graduation. This seemed the best solution for me.
With his anti-war outlook, Pappa hated the idea of me going into the military. I wasn’t all that much of a gung-ho super-patriot but didn’t want to cop out on my school buddies, either. My father said he’d try to get me a farm deferment as farm work was considered essential to the war effort so this might have been doable. There were World War II conscientious objectors and upon reading about them, I felt a lot of admiration for them, but didn’t think it was for me. The threat of Hitler was real in my eyes. So I turned down the chance of a farm deferment as well.
There was a Navy recruiting station in Fitchburg so I went to inquire about the chances of enlisting before my 18th birthday. The fellow on duty was a middle-aged chief petty officer of a rather decent sort. I talked with him and picked up the enlistment forms. After filling them out, I’d be sent to Springfield, MA for a physical. If accepted, I’d be placed on inactive duty until the June call-up.
I needed to get my father’s signature for the enlistment papers. He hated to do it as for him this was just another capitalist war fought for profit. But eventually he did sign. It was the hardest decision of his life. I still remember the intense sadness in his gray-blue eyes, as he probably felt he was signing my death sentence.
So I went with a draft of enlistees by train to a naval facility in Springfield via Pittsfield for our physicals in early March, 1944. I was joined by several Fitchburg High School students who were enlisting through the same program as I was. Two of them were Italian boys, a lively kid named Joe Testarmata and Joe Altieri whose family owned a bar in Fitchburg. I passed the physical and we were sworn in. We stayed overnight at a Springfield Hotel, expenses paid by the government. We returned home and I went back to school for the balance of the semester.
Eugene Niemi as well as Bobby Luoma served on landing craft for the Normandy invasion. Bobby was in the heat of battle and saw death and desolation all around him. He came home on leave and I never saw anyone so scared in my life. So I think I made the right choice, at least delaying the possibility of any immediate action and finishing school.
LEMPI’S MARITAL FORTUNES
I don’t remember the time sequence involved, but when my cousin Lempi found out I had enlisted, she urged me to read Stephan Zweig’s wartime novel “The Good Soldier Schweik” It was about a World War I soldier who violated all discipline by his seeming ineptitude, evidencing itself in hilarious episodes. It was a case of tweaking the noses of the military brass as an accidental rebel. Unfortunately, I never read the book until years later. .
By that time Lempi had divorced Larry, saying she had become bored with the marriage. They broke up on amicable terms and remained good friends. In fact, when Larry found another woman he introduced her to Lempi and later asked Lempi what she thought of his choice and whether he ought to marry her. Later on Larry opened up a bookstore in Greenwich Village and became a reform liberal Democrat in New York politics.
Lempi went through a number of affairs as she was no puritan. Some time during World War II she met and married an immigrant baker from Germany, Martin Arenz. Martin was totally non-political and had no intellectual interests. Lempi’s political friends wondered why she would marry someone like Martin who was so totally outside her activist environment. Martin was a decent, amiable, hardworking chap. He was the spitting image, although smaller, of the German heavyweight boxer Max Schmeling who had fought Joe Louis. Since Martin had never taken out naturalization papers he was still a German citizen. Since he was under surveillance as an “enemy alien” every time he left New York City he had to sign out with the police and sign in when he returned.
By that time he and Jane (Lempi) had purchased an old farmhouse about 60-70 miles up the Hudson from New York City which they turned into a weekend or week-long summer vacation retreat for people from the City who wanted to get out to the country from time to time. Lempi continued her waitress work in NYC during the winter and run the farmhouse retreat during the summer as hostess, cook, server and cleaning woman. Martin would come up on weekends on his motorcycle and help out.
RACISM AND INTERNAL REPRESSION
German and Italian nationals were not the only ethnic or racial groups under surveillance in the United States during World War II. We had the horrid example of Japanese-Americans in California and the West Coast interred in concentration camps (euphemistically called “relocation centers”) during the war years, an unforgivable act by the Roosevelt Administration. Yet the Japanese residents of Hawaii (a U.S. territory not yet been granted statehood) were not interred in my memory.
In the poultry industry of that time it was important to segregate baby chicks right after incubation to determine if they were potential hens or roosters. Many poultry farmers like us, for instance, would buy a thousand or two baby chicks to raise as layers for eggs so we couldn’t possibly afford a few dozen roosters mixed up in the batch. Japanese-American baby chick “sex detectors” were considered the best in the business who could readily determine a chick’s sex by feel. They were thus hired by hatcheries to separate the “girls” from the ’boys” before they were sold to farmers
So during the war I remember hearing that there were Japanese “sex detectors“ operating in hatcheries on the East Coast while their brethren on the West Coast were doing time behind barbed wire in desolate desert areas after losing their jobs, farms and businesses. My feelings even at the time was that all grossly unfair and unjust that was brought on by war hysteria. In more recent times this ugly episode has been seen as a gross violation of civil liberties by most Americans.
This was also the time of extreme racism against the Japanese both here and their ancestral home, far beyond the just condemnation of the imperialism and war waged by the fascistic dictatorial ruling class of that country. The broad brush of the charge “Yellow Peril was applied to everyone of that race. Hideous caricatures appeared in the media of Japanese, who were called “Japs” or “Nips”, with protruding buck teeth, glasses, and always grimacing and sinister. They were all considered fanatical, evil, devious, diabolical and sub-human, far inferior to Caucasians, white Americans in particular But there was now a war to be won and Pearl Harbor to be avenged and war fervor and jingoism had to be whipped up among Americans and the armed forces by any means necessary, fair or foul.
It was probably due to the concept of fairness and civility toward people of all backgrounds inherent in the Finnish democratic socialist culture of my upbringing that caused me to recoil against this blatant racist propaganda. I had felt the same toward Blacks and Native Americans even then and disliked the racism to which they were subjected. Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, a descendent of slaves was my hero as was Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, a Rhode Island American Indian who won the Boston Marathon in my adolescent years. I recall a radio talk by a woman spokesperson for the NAACP about racism and discrimination against African-Americans, we commonly called “Negroes” at the time. as a term of respect. I had taken that talk very much to heart.
Yet at that stage of my life I had no Asians –Japanese, Chinese, or others –as personal friends/ There were none living in Westminster. The first black person I got to know personally was Bill Osborne, a student in the cabinet-making department at Worcester Trade who was the star of our school basketball team.
POLITICAL PERSECUTION OF THE TROTSKYISTS
There was a political witch hunt in these times against a faction of the Left as well. American Nazis and fascists of the Right were moved in on, but the only significant group on the Left to come under government attack were the Trotskyist communists, members of the Socialist Workers Party. A number of its leaders, like James P. Cannon, were arrested and brought to trial under the Smith Act in 1940, which was much later, during the Cold War, used against the leaders of the American Communist Party in 1949. The Smith Act, authored by conservative Virginia Democratic Sen. Howard W. Smith in 1940 and signed by FDR made it a crime to advocate the violent overthrow of the US or any state government and to belong to any organization that supported such. Its language made it a subject of attack by civil libertarians as a stifling of free speech.
At that time I’d never heard of the SWP or anything called the Trotskyists, or “Trotskyites” by its detractors, It was only after the war that I knew of their existence. My cousin Lempi was an SWP member during that period., but she never mentioned it to me until 1947. She never mentioned to my family about any of the problems the SWP was facing then or whether she was subjected to any kind of witch hunts by the FBI or other government agencies then. In later years this aspect was never a subject of discussion between us. Her death in 1984 precluded any further dialogue of these years.
There was no talk of this case in Minneapolis against the Trotskyists within our Finnish social democratic circles. The Trotskyist movement never caught on within the Finnish-American left which was primarily divided between the SP, CP, IWW and the Midwestern Co-opers who broke with the CP in the 1930s in the struggle for control of the Central States Co-op. My cousin Lempi was one of the relatively few American Finns who were attracted to the Trotskyist movement.
So 23 Trotskyist functionaries spent time in prison during World War II, the first Left victims of the Smith Act. The Trotskyist and other non-Stalinist interpretations of what befell the SWP claimed that the Roosevelt Administration had them arrested and tried at the behest of Dan Tobin, the international president of the Teamsters Union, The Trotskyists were a significant factor in the Teamsters, having been put on the map as being key leaders of the successful Minneapolis General Strike of 1934 which was a significant factor in making that city a strong union town. The prominent Trotskyist Teamster leaders were Farrell Dobbs and the Dunne brothers.
The conservative Tobin considered these Trotskyists a major threat to his power in the Teamsters. So he prevailed upon his friend Franklin Roosevelt to take action to put them behind bars. So Roosevelt complied and they were successfully prosecuted.
The CP, bitter enemies of the SWP, applauded the court decision as its hated rivals within the Leninist movement were going to jail, although later they faced the same charges themselves By this time the CP had become strong supporters of World War II Allies, from the day the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union. Prior to that time the CP was opposed to the US going to war and was active in the antiwar movement with the slogan: “The Yanks are not coming.” After all, this was the period of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the brunt of its propaganda was against “English and French imperialism.” But with Operation Barbarossa, the CPers became fervent patriots, supporting the Allies to the hilt, and rallying for the establishment of a “second front” in Europe to relieve Russia from Nazi Germany’s massive frontal attack, which eventually happened. So in denial of the murder of Stalin’s rival Leon Trotsky by a Soviet agent in Mexico City in 1940, the CP rejoiced in the imprisonment of the American “Trotskyites”
As a libertarian socialist today I have no sympathy for the Trotskyist or any form of Leninist ideology, but I do agree with them and many independent leftists and civil libertarians that they were unjustly victimized by the Smith Act prosecutions.
Pappa Gets Sick Again
Pappa began to cough frequently as 1944 got underway. He began to feel chest pains and the severe coughing became regular. His lungs felt like they were on fire. But he still kept on smoking. Yet our lives continued as before. He kept working the farm along with Mamma and myself, although I was deeply involved with school.
Pappa wasn’t really a drinking man but he began to buy whiskey on our trips to Fitchburg. A belt of whiskey from time to time was the only thing that seemed to relieve the painful agony in his chest. He began to tire more easily and between chores would lie down on the front lawn for periods when the weather got warmer in the later spring. Finally, during the spring he began to spit up blood intermittently.
Finally my graduation began to near. My work on the senior yearbook was winding up and I was grooming a successor to edit Trade Winds when I graduated.
We even had a senior dance at Trade. I was terribly shy and self-conscious with girls. I’d never even had a date, not to speak of sex. I couldn’t think of anyone to ask to take to the dance . I would have had to ask my father to drive as I had no operator’s license. I had only learned to dance (awkwardly) when I was 17. This had taken place at one of the Finnish Farmers’ Co-op dances at the Westminster Town Hall. My first attempt at dancing was with a neighbor woman, Elvi Väänänen who by then was in her mid 20s and not interested in me romantically. She had been my Uncle Otto’s girl friend for a short time. I learned the Finnish schottische, the waltz and the polka from her. I can’t say I was all that good but it was a start.
For the senior dance I wrote a letter to Jackie Battles, one of the town girls in Westminster who was now going to Fitchburg High. She was a tall, attractive girl who was a year younger than me and a high school junior. It took a lot of nerve for me to write the letter. I got a polite written reply turning me down. I was devastated. I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone else. So I didn’t go to the prom.
June came and the graduation rites. We rented tuxedos for the occasion with corsages. There were class pictures and individual portraits. The yearbook which I edited was published.
Our whole family went to the ceremony in a large auditorium in Worcester. Uncle Otto who was a housepainter in Worcester, joined us. My father was sick and despondent when he drove us there. The graduating class present was very small as most of the seniors were already in the military and received their diplomas in absentia. So we sat there as a “corporal’s guard” in our rented tuxes and corsages. I t was the only time in my life I ever wore a tuxedo except for once in a play in which I later performed.
The graduation speaker was some retired rear admiral. He gave a rip-roaring patriotic speech exhorting us to do our part in the war effort to defeat the foul enemy and bring victory to the Stars and Stripes. I wasn’t much impressed by his long-winded stentorian oratory and couldn’t wait for it to end.
After the ceremony I wanted to take my family to the Printing Department to show where I’d worked for three years and to meet my teachers Al Rand and Jack Gallagher who were there to receive the graduating printing students and their families. Somehow Pappa disappeared` after the ceremony so I ended up going to the reception with Mamma, my sister Irma, and Uncle Otto. I was crushed as I wanted Pappa to meet my printing teachers I liked so much. We did run into him later downstairs by the car. He had gone to a Lincoln Square bar and had had several drinks. He was depressed about his undiagnosed illness and his relentless pain, but much more depressed about me going to war, a bloody institution he had opposed all his life. He didn’t tell us that; he said nothing as we drove home.
WE BURN THE MORTGAGE
After all these years of horrid mortgages and debts to survive on the farm, wartime “prosperity” paid off with higher egg and poultry prices. We were at last debt-free. So it was time to “burn the mortgage.” I was given the honor just before boot camp. In a backyard family ceremony I lit a match that torched the paper to free us of debt. The Great Depression was over for us.
of Installment 4