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Luck, Pluck, and Serendipity: Bumby’s Wartime Experience (with Hadley audio)

Luck, Pluck, and Serendipity: Bumby’s Wartime Experience (with Hadley audio)


I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Jack Hemingway, who lived not so far from here, really. I would loved to have asked him so many questions about his life, especially the years he spent in Europe.

Bumby looked like his mother Hadley and was much more like her in temperament; good-natured and even-tempered, and not particularly driven. Although when it came to fishing, hunting, a love for the outdoors, as well as an appreciation of the opposite sex and a willingness to test the waters, he was Ernest Hemingway’s son.

When Jack Hemingway came of age during WWII, he was enrolled at Dartmouth College. He wasn’t particularly motivated to excel in academics, being more interested in drinking, fishing and girls. By November of 1942, he dropped out. He had no choice but to face up to the inevitability of joining the Armed Forces. After spending a Christmas with his father and Marty Gellhorn at the Finca in Cuba, Jack was inducted into the Army on Feb 16, 1943. He was then sent to Fort Riley, Kansas for basic training at The Military Police Replacement Training Center. There, he applied, and was accepted into Officers Candidate School.

The synchronicity and luck that Jack was to experience as a soldier first became evident at the Algonquin Hotel in Orangeburg, New York in December of 1943. Jack had been temporarily staying at nearby Camp Shanks. One evening he was by himself, when he decided to stop by the bar to have a nightcap. There were only two other people in the bar that night besides the bartender. Jack noticed that the two older gentlemen were engaged in a heated debate. When Jack heard them mention his father he focused in, eavesdropping on their conversation. The two men were arguing over who was the better writer, Hemingway or Faulkner. After listening for a while, Jack politely interrupted and asked if he might interject. The men appeared a little irritated but acquiesced.  Jack said, that in his opinion, there was a writer that was a better storyteller than either Hemingway or Faulkner. The older man shot back, “And who the devil might that be?” Jack said, “ Maurice Walsh. “ The man turned a bit white and replied, “ I am Maurice Walsh.” Jack extended his hand and said, “ I’m Jack Hemingway, and my father is the writer that you favored, pleased to meet you. “

Within a few months, by early 1944, Jack was sent overseas where he was in stationed in Algeria. There he was a military police officer who commanded a special unit of black soldiers. Although he did well and was a strong advocate for the soldiers in his unit, he was unsatisfied with his work.

While on a two day leave in Algiers, Jack met up with his favorite “other mother”, Marty Gelhorn, who was on her way to Italy to work as a correspondent with the French Forces. He had a memorable dinner that weekend with Martha that included among the guests, Victor Rothschild of the Rothschild Family and Randolph Churchill, the son of the British Prime Minister. Victor had just been awarded a medal by the King for valor while dismantling unexploded bombs during the London Blitz. Victor had accounts of his recent exploits and young Churchill had fresh tales of parachuting into what was to become Yugoslavia. He had been caught in some harrowing action and barely escaped death or being captured by the Germans while on a mission to aid Tito’s partisans.

Jack, in the middle, with his OSS team at Le Bousquet, France

These first hand stories had Jack craving the challenges and excitement of action. He was getting tired of the tedium he was experiencing on his post in Algeria. Not long after that weekend, Jack was in the right place at the right time, and was able to capitalize on his ability to speak fluent French, (and probably the Hemingway name). He requested and obtained a transfer that would ultimately lead him into the action that he had hoped for.

Jack’s entry into the OSS, (Office of Strategic Services, the newly formed wartime clandestine service, which was to evolve into the CIA after the war), was expedited. His security clearance came through quickly, and he was sent to Chrea, Algeria for his OSS training. There he was prepared for an assignment to parachute into France behind the German lines to help with communications and to act as a liaison with the local anti-German resistance. The fact that Jack had never jumped from a plane, and that he had never had any formal parachute training, didn’t seem to bother anyone, including Jack.

But what really illustrated Jack’s gumption and his strikingly casual wartime demeanor was his determination to sneak his fly rod onto his jump-pack gear. He had heard that there might be some nice trout streams in Southern France, and he wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity to find out. Forbidden fishing behind enemy lines undoubtedly added some extra intrigue to his favorite pastime.

When the British officer in charge of the jump told Jack that the fly rod would not be permitted, Jack winked and whispered that the rod was a radio antenna disguised as a fishing pole. The officer returned the wink and the “antenna rod” accompanied Jack on the jump. The jump was made over some rough terrain and the landing didn’t go so well. Two of the three men who made the jump with him, both Frenchmen, were seriously hurt and knocked out of the action immediately, for the duration of the war. Jack was banged up a bit but was happy to see that his fly rod had made it unscathed.

Young Ernest Hemingway fishing

Immediately, he was introduced to the local resistance fighters operating in the hills surrounding the villages around Le Bousquet-d-Orb, France (approx. 45 kilometers west of Montpellier). Much of Jack’s work was directed toward keeping the Communist leaning FTPF fighters and the more moderate FFI fighters from engaging in open warfare against each other.

During breaks in his work behind the lines, Jack was able to occasionally go fly-fishing in the nearby rivers and streams. At this time, during the summer of 44, things were changing rapidly in southern France.  The Allied forces had just made a successful landing to the east, on the Mediterranean Cote d’Azur. Remnants of the11th Panzer Division, known as the “Ghost Division”, were in the process of staging a disorganized retreat to the north and east to avoid entrapment. Because their retreat was haphazard, it was difficult for anyone in the area to know exactly where the enemy was at any given time.

One afternoon, Bumby took some time off to test a promising stream that was rumored to have decent trout. While lost in the concentration and reverie of casting and reeling, he suddenly noticed the sound of boots marching on the road above the steep grade along the stream. It was a German patrol armed with rifles and machine guns. Jack heard what sounded to him like derisive snickers directed toward him. He kept casting while attempting to look nonchalant, fervently hoping that he wouldn’t get a strike from a fish since that might cause the patrol to stop and watch, or worse, to come down and talk to him. Luckily, there were no interested fish at that moment and the patrol continued past. Jack continued to use his fly rod whenever he got the chance. These cavalier fishing exploits, along with his relaxed and charming American style, earned Jack the nickname, “Jacques Le Fou” among his French compatriots.

As the Germans continued their retreat to the Northeast, Jack and his compatriots followed, sometimes operating behind enemy lines, and other times working in liberated territory . They had moved quickly, and by the Fall of ’44, they found themselves in Northeast France, in the region between Dijon and Strasbourg.

During that summer while Jack had been fighting, spying, and fishing, Papa had been involved in his dramatic and controversial push toward Paris as an armed war correspondent. There were undoubtedly few American father and sons who simultaneously experienced the historic liberation of France. It was pure Hemingway. Jack was told that he was about to go on leave to Paris, possibly to join up with his father, who was holed up at The Ritz. This leave was ultimately postponed and the stage was set for the subsequent events which brought Jack the kind of action he had hoped to avoid.

One day there was a need for someone qualified to help place a French OSS contact in the field at a secret location.  Jack volunteered, “just going along for the ride”. Information was sketchy on the whereabouts of the Germans and the allied units. Jack and an American captain, “Justin”, along with their French contact made their way toward their destination, a safe house that had been used for “letter drops”. Closing in on the house, they suddenly found themselves startling a whole unit of Alpinjaegger mountain troops that they had stumbled upon. In an instant, there was small arms fire popping all around them as they tried to beat a frantic retreat, crashing through the woods. The French “contact” was fatally struck by grenade fragments and then Justin was hit. As Jack prepared to open fire from where he had taken refuge in a ditch, he was hit in the right arm and then in the shoulder. At that point, while getting sprayed by grenade fragments, he and Justin cried out in their best German that they surrendered.  Luckily, the Germans ceased firing. The two wounded Americans were helped up to the road by the Germans who gave them some first aid, and morphine. Then they were blindfolded and led to the exact house, which they had been attempting to reach with their French contact.

After a bit, Jack was brought in front of an Oberleutnant, who asked him (through an interpreter) for his name, rank, and serial number. Then, he asked him if he spoke French. Jack replied that he did. Then the German officer asked Jack, in French, something that totally stunned him. He asked Jack if he had ever been to Schruns. Jack answered that he had been there as a child. Then the officer asked Jack the name of his nurse who took care of him there. When Jack told him that she was called Tidy, he broke into a huge grin. “We drink a toast to Tidy. She is my girlfriend!”

After this, the interrogation evolved into pleasantries culminating in a friendly toast of Schnapps. Jack and Justin were then carried through the forest to an ambulance by four orderlies while Allied troops rained mortars down around them. They were taken to a field hospital in Colmar were they were cared for by Alsatian nuns who treated them well.

The sequence of events that transpired after Jack was sent to the field hospital showed how Jack’s wartime life continued to be charmed. Even under the very poor conditions, his wounds slowly healed and he was spared the amputation that the German doctors had been considering. In the months that followed, he managed to avoid aerial strafing and bombardment by the Allies, while traveling in a train with fellow prisoners during the transfer from the field hospital to a POW camp in Hammelburg, Germany. In Hammelburg, he was involved in a break out. After a few days and nights on the run, foraging from small farms and gardens, he and his fellow escapees were captured by a patrol of frightened young German recruits. After another harrowing ride in an armored train, Jack ended up in a POW camp in Nurnberg, Germany. He was only there for a week before the entire camp was evacuated. The Russians who were closing in from the east and the Americans from the west were quickly shrinking the Germans hold on their fatherland. From Nurnberg, a 200-kilometer march was undertaken in the cold, with little food and no shelter. The prisoners crossed the Danube on a pontoon bridge and arrived in Moosburg in Bavaria. During this march, Jack successfully employed a hand fishing technique that he had learned from a man in Le Bousquet. He was able to use patience and stealth to snag a 7-inch trout, which he cooked up to help offset his hunger. After a short time in Moosburg, the sound of artillery and small arms fire signaled the end of the long ordeal that had begun the previous summer. Jack had lost 70 lbs. since he was wounded and captured, dropping from 210lbs to 140lbs.

Jack’s wedding to Puck, photo from Jack Hemingway’s “Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman”

The first thing that Jack did after U.S. Army tanks crashed through the town and into the camp, was to make contact with some of his OSS friends. Then, he hitched a ride with a few of them to Army Headquarters, which at that time, was in Regensburg. After checking in with the OSS, and then cleaning up, he was taken to the officer’s mess hall for a decent meal. There, seated at one of the nearby tables, looking as glamorous as ever, was Papa’s friend, Marlene Dietrich.

For some reason unknown to Jack, he felt a rare wave of shyness. Instead of introducing himself, he stayed at his table and continued eating. From Regensburg, Jack was flown to Paris just in time to celebrate with the VE-Day mobs that filled the Champs Elysees on May 8th, 1945. A fitting culmination for a soldier named Hemingway.

Hadley Sight for the Gods

Click on “Sight for the Gods” to listen to Hadley talk about Bumby

I had originally intended to include only the last few minutes of this audio clip, where Hadley describes the specific details of Jack’s war experiences. But I couldn’t resist giving you about 20 minutes more conversation between Hadley and Alice, as the two friends talk about Bumby. Hadley will make you smile as she describes her own sons’ fly fishing cast as “a sight for the Gods.” The clip is over thirty minutes long and difficult to hear at times.