James Lardner


James at about 24.

The Lardners' second son, James Phillips, was born May 18, 1914. Ring wrote a letter for Ellis telling her family how pretty he was.

So, James, also called Jim, was a pretty baby and became a pretty good writer as well. He began to work a little at the Trib during his final semester at Harvard and stayed there for three years.

"He was bright an literate enough to carry out all the jobs assigned him, but not nearly aggressive enough to make a name for himself in the competition of a New York press corps recruited from the country's best. He won himself few by-lines and spent most of his time on the monotonous round of funerals, banquets, strikes, accidents and minor crimes that a young reporter habitually had to cover" (Lardner, p. 240).

During the 1930s, he made his way with Ernest Hemingway to the battle lines of the Spain Civil War. He wanted to enlist in the Lincoln-Washington Battalion of the International Brigades fighting against the military rebellion led by General Franco and aided by Hitler and Mussolini.

He began by writing a series of pieces on the Americans in the International Brigade. In March of 1937 he announced to his mother and his brother Ring that he had made tentative arrangements for a short book on the American volunteers. He assured his mother that he had no intentions to fight, but after 10 short days in Spain he announced to his friend Vincent (Jimmy) Sheean that he wanted to join the Internationals. At this time he was correspondent of the Copenhagen 'Politiken,' the International News Service and the Herald Tribune. He wrote his mother a letter explaining his change in plans.


James in a hospital in Spain, 1938.

When he joined, Jim was put in a group of men judged unfit for war so he deserted them and went to join the Lincoln Brigade. On July 27, more than three months after his enlistment, Jim finally had his first experience of battle and was wounded.

It all happened one day when he went to an orchard to get some fruit because he was hungry. A plane with bombs flew over and he got flat on the ground while they were firing. "The explosion and concussion were terrific, but I didn't discover I was hit right away. In fact, I walked over to where my rifle, munition belt and canteen of water were lying, picked them up and started back. Then I began to notice that my left calf and the left side of my behind were hurting" (Lardner, p. 277).

Jim stayed in the hospital for several weeks, but when he returned he saw some of the heaviest fighting he would be around. On September 21, the Spanish Government announced its decision to withdraw all foreign volunteers immediately. To maintain morale, however, the news was not given to the soldiers until they were to be pulled out. It turned out to be too late for Jim.

One night Jim was sent on patrol to contact a Spanish unit that was supposed to be on a hill to the rear of his battalion. He and the other two men he was with stood at the foot of what they though was the right hill, but they heard digging. Jim told the other two soldiers to wait until he could investigate it.

While investigating Jim met someone whom he spoke to in Spanish. The faceless enemy fired machine guns and hand grenades at Jim and the other two men. One, an American named Anthony Nowakowsky, was the only one to survive, and next morning Moorish troops attacked the American position in force from the direction of that hill, inflicting severe casualties.

For several weeks the Lardner family hung to the hope that Jim was only a prisoner of war. But eventually they have come to believe his body was one searchers found with press credentials.