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A Picture from History: Ernest Hemingway at War

Famed author...ship captain...and spy chief?? We take a look at Ernest Hemingway and his endeavors during WWI and WWII.

    Men throughout America signed up for the Army as World War I raged. Young Ernest Hemingway was no different.

    The only problem?

    Hemingway in his ambulance driver's uniform
    Hemingway in his ambulance driver’s uniform (Photo: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

    He was deemed too nearsighted to join.

    His solution? Join the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver.

    To the Front

    The Army didn’t send him to the front, but the Red Cross did.

    By 1918, Hemingway was stationed at the Italian-Austrian front, where, on July 8, he found himself exploded by an Austrian trench mortar. 

    When he awoke, he was buried in the dirt beside a dead man he’d been standing by just seconds earlier. Another near him was missing his legs and a third was badly wounded and in desperate need of help. 

    Hemingway's passport photo
    Hemingway’s 1923 passport photo

    Stumbling to his feet, Hemingway raced over to the man and lifted him onto his shoulders. His legs were filled with shrapnel, so it was no easy feat.

    There was only one problem…the aid station was roughly 200 yards away, and a German machine gunner had just found them. 

    Hemingway ran as fast as possible with a grown man on his shoulders, dodging bullets the entire way.

    But he made it.

    Hemingway in a Red Cross hospital after being wounded
    Hemingway in a Red Cross hospital after being wounded

    Writing Material 

    Realizing how bad off he was, both men were sent off to the hospital to heal. There, medical staff discovered that Hemingway had 227 shrapnel wounds in his legs.

    His recovery period in the hospital — and love spell with his nurse — served as the inspiration for his novel A Farewell to Arms

    Five years later, Hemingway served as a correspondent with The Toronto Star — a newspaper that shipped him over to Constantinople to write on the Greco-Turkish War of 1922.

    Greek Infantry during the Greco-Turkish War
    Greek Infantry during the Greco-Turkish War

    He didn’t see much fighting during this time, but by the time the Spanish Civil War came about in 1937, there would be plenty of opportunities to be close to the action. 

    World War II

    The War to End All Wars didn’t end warfare after all, and the world fought once more.

    Hemingway lived in Cuba at that time…and never one to sit back and do nothing, he crafted a plan to present to the American embassy.

    He wanted to outfit his fishing vessel, the Pilar, with .50 caliber machine guns, bazookas, radio equipment, and grenades to hunt for German U-boats prowling the Caribbean. 

    Hemingway in Havana after catching a marlin
    Hemingway in Havana after catching a marlin

    To his surprise, the embassy agreed, and Hemingway and his men headed to sea.

    The plan was for a U-boat to surface, then Hemingway and his men would try to commandeer the vessel to steal their food. Such was the habit of German captains in the area to local fishermen.

    After that, Hemingway’s men would kill the crew and attempt to sink the submarine.

    But the plan never worked…

    Too Far to Hit

    Hemingway on the Pilar
    Hemingway on the Pilar

    Though Hemingway’s crew saw several U-boats, the Pilar was never able to get close enough to put the plan into action. 

    But that didn’t stop Hemingway…

    Ernest Hemingway in Cuba
    Ernest Hemingway in Cuba. (Photo: Ida Woodward Barron Collection)

    In fact, he actually crafted two plans which the American Embassy signed off on — the second being that he would create a system of informants on the island of Cuba who would keep track of pro-Nazi sentiments.

    A number of Spanish Nazis had fled to Cuba after the Spanish Civil War, and there were fears that they could strike close to America. 

    As a result, Hemingway not only spent time as the captain of a ship but as a spy chief as well. 

    A Colorful Life

    These stories don’t even begin to cover all the other wartime exploits of this famous writer.

    He was involved in the French Resistance, attempted to land at D-Day, and shipped out for the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1941.

    Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking (Chongqing), China, 1941. (Photo: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

    This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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    7 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      Tom Franciosi

      Akways enjoy gun history!

      August 30, 2022 5:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Brian Janota

      I enjoyed the article shed light on just adventurous and patriotic a man Hemingway was.

      August 29, 2022 7:47 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Gary Rich

      Don’t judge a man by how he chose to leave life. Look at what he contributed to, even drunk, that touched thousands of lives. His talent was incredible and his demons many. A man of his time that wasn’t satisfied with watching and commenting from the side lines or safe at home. He lived, observed, reported to those that didn’t go, with a timeless style. He should not be judged by our time and very flexible standards. He should just be appreciated for being able to describe the incredible events he put himself into.

      August 28, 2022 4:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ray m

      Then it all ended with a self execution. After a lifetime of heavy drinking.

      August 26, 2022 10:26 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      sam c

      Thank you for posting these articles on history, hemingway was a very interesting person and I really enjoyed his books. I dont really care about his politics but he was an important part of american history that needs to be learned about.

      August 26, 2022 3:41 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Rocky Eshom

      I always enjoy a little history education. And, Hemingway is an interesting subject.

      August 26, 2022 11:46 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Uh.... Hemingway was a lifelong socialist and when living in Cuba he sat around sipping daiquiris while watching Che Guevara execute people.

      August 26, 2022 10:44 am
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