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Ernest Hemingway's Courts Martial During World War Two

Hemingway in 1944 - Armed?

Colonel Clarence C. Park, Inspector General of Patton's Third Army, was sitting at his desk in what had been a private dining room of a small hotel in Nancy, Northern France, near the German border.

All the hotels in Nancy had been taken over by the US military, and the one Park and his staff found themselves in was an early 19th century stone building with imposing views to east and west, and a proprietor who looked after them as if they were family. Park lit a Lucky Strike and poured another cup of strong black coffee - knowing full well his blood pressure would rise as a result - and read again the order he was about to send to Ernest Hemingway:

You will proceed by military aircraft and/or Government motor transportation on or about 4th October from present station to Headquarters, Inspector General Third Army (Rear) to carry out the instructions of the A.C. of S.H-2, Supreme Hq. AEF.”

Park took the accusations made against Hemingway very seriously indeed, and had, over the weeks since receiving Patton's instructions, interviewed many of the correspondents and army personnel - who had witnessed the goings on at Rambouillet - all of whom testified that Hemingway, who had come to France as a civilian newspaperman (albeit under the jurisdiction of the US Army) - had “borne arms against the enemy.” For this - and because he was under army jurisdiction - he could only be courts-martialled. He did not come under French jurisdiction because there wasn't any, he could not be sent back to the States to be tried as he had not committed a crime there. An American Army military court was the only solution, and if found guilty Hemingway could be sentenced to a long stretch in a military prison, or, at the very least, be sent back to the US in disgrace, with his passport withdrawn.

As Clarence Park quickly smoked his cigarette and drank his cup of coffee, he thought about the time he'd spent gathering together the evidence that Ernest Hemingway was actually carrying arms in contradiction of the strict laws governing war correspondents, had in fact used grenades against the enemy as if he were a serving soldier. Patton's instructions had been explicit.

Nail him!”

But now the vibes coming from the General's HQ suggested Park should not take too much time over the case, that under no circumstances was Park to bring the good name of the American Army into disrepute.

Park had no intention of doing that, but Christ all the witnesses were now lined up, all the affidavits taken. The case was pretty well clear cut - Hemingway was as guilty as hell. But it was now pretty obvious that Patton had cold feet and probably wished he'd never instructed Park to pursue the matter. Park was beginning to feel the same way.

As historian Charles Whiting points out, had Hemingway “fallen into German hands bearing arms as a civilian dressed in US Army uniform, he would have prejudiced the enemy against any other correspondent unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner.”

And Hemingway was famous in Germany too, with all his books translated into German. He was high profile and a huge risk to the safety of other correspondents. Something should have been done sooner of course, but everyone, including Hemingway, was too busy fighting a war.

The Germans had acted very quickly throughout the war when they felt that the “Rules of Land Warfare” had been infringed by the Allies. They, of course, broke virtually all of those rules themselves, especially on the Eastern Front, but that made no difference. When the Canadians raided Dieppe, in 1942, they handcuffed their German prisoners which resulted in British POWs being handcuffed when captured thereafter. Rather more brutally, two years later, the German high command ordered that all captured Allied commandos be summarily executed without trial in retaliation for several German prisoners executed by Allied commandos.

Before Hemingway ever set foot on French soil, in 1944, it was turning into a very dirty war indeed. It was not a place to play games.

What Park also knew was that when Hemingway was brought to trial – and Park informed Patton there was no way out of that course of action – the manure was going to hit the fan big time; and if it wasn't handled very carefully the American Army, and the US government, could be seriously embarrassed.

Hemingway said his farewells to Mary and presented himself at a large US Army transport base on the outskirts of Paris where he was appointed a driver, and early on the morning of the 5th October, 1944, they headed north for Nancy.

The journey took the best part of a day, and when they came within half a mile of the hotel, on the evening of the 5th, Hemingway excused his driver and made his way on foot - in the bright, almost blue moonlight - to the hotel that was now the HQ of the Inspector Generals Office, Third Army (Rear).

After plucking up courage, and pondering his fate, Hemingway walked into the hotel and asked a young female army sergeant sitting behind the reception desk, if he could see Colonel Clarence Park.

Your name, sir?”

Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway.”

Just one moment, Mr Hemingway.”

With that the young woman made her way down the corridor, disappearing into an office; although to Hemingway it looked more like a dining room. After a while the young woman came back and led Hemingway back down the corridor before ushering him into Colonel Park's office.

On seeing the novelist Colonel Park strode forward, and, against military regulations, shook Hemingway's hand and offered him a cigarette.

No thanks, gave up years ago.”

Mr Hemingway, I guess you know why you're here?”

Colonel Clarence C. Park was a professional and much respected military lawyer, and something of an expert on American literature, especially the works of Mark Twain and Herman Melville. To try and put Hemingway a little at ease he asked the novelist what he thought of those two writers.

Huck Finn is the finest book ever written, and Moby Dick the biggest and heaviest. Now Colonel can we get on with things?”

Colonel Park was rather taken aback by Hemingway's curt rebuttal of Park's courteous attempts at conversation, and to fill the silence that descended upon the room the Colonel shook another Lucky Strike from its paper carton, lit it with a miniature flame thrower and perched himself on the edge of the desk and took a long, lung satisfying draw, exhaling as he spoke.

Mr Hemingway, I would like to outline the charges filed against you.”

File away, Colonel.”

Park now realised that Hemingway was very afraid, and very unsure of himself. The tough, sub Dashiel Hammett stuff was a bluff, and a bad one. Okay, Pal, thought Park, have it your own way, and then started pacing slowly around the room, never allowing Hemingway the chance of looking at him directly. He then read from a thick, cardboard bound file.

That you did remove your correspondents insignia in order to assume...”

Bullshit, Colonel.”

At this stage, Mr Hemingway, you will allow me to read out the charges without interruption. And I am doing this as a favour to you, sir, to enable you to take in the enormity of your actions, and therefore be better prepared for tomorrow's proceedings. Do you have legal representation, Mr Hemingway?”


Pity. Anyway, if you will allow me to continue?”

Sure, sure, go on.”

Park back-tracked a few words and continued to read.

That you did remove your correspondents insignia in order to assume command of Free French Irregular forces in Rambouillet, and that you helped to defend that town on August 19, through 20, and that you had been referred to as a Colonel and a General with said FFI, and in this capacity had persistently run patrols. Witnesses, mostly other correspondents, claim they found stocks of anti-personnel, and anti-tank grenades, plus mines, German bazookas, and sundry small arms in your various hotel rooms. These witnesses have also alleged that you maintained a map room in Rambouillet, and that a full Colonel, a real one, acted as your chief of staff, and that you declared to fellow correspondents that you no longer sent despatches.”

Park then sat back down behind his desk and lit another Lucky Strike.

You smoke too much, Colonel.”

I know, but what else can a guy do in Nancy in October?”

Anything to drink in this place?”

Not a big drinker, Mr Hemingway, but you'll find a bottle of cognac behind a copy of, A Life of Bonaparte, on the shelves over there.

Hemingway retrieved the bottle, found a glass, and poured a hefty amount of a very fine Napoleon.

Fancy a slug, Colonel?”

No thanks.”

What'll happen if you find me guilty, assuming you haven't already made up your mind?”

If not sent to prison, you will, at the very least, be stripped of your correspondents credentials and shipped back to the States on the first available ship or plane. We shall also make sure the newspapers and wire services, the radio and newsreels are fully informed.”

Hemingway pours himself another drink, and one for Park.

You read any Robert Frost, Colonel?”

Some, but I have to say I find his imagery a little too romantic, without the danger that Whitman brings to imagery, the danger of people, of involvement, of not holding back.”

Park slugs his cognac back in one.

Good to see a man with a thirst.”

Never touched the stuff at all until this year, still don't drink much of it, but I can see how a man can get the taste.”

Never trust a man that doesn't drink my grandfather used to say.”

A wise man I'm sure.”

Indeed he was. Taught me one hell of a lot about warfare. Wish to God he hadn't at times.”

You had a rough time in the first war I hear?”

Rough? No, not rough, not compared to millions of others. Mine was a short and painful little war, but not rough. Quite enjoyable at times, and very rewarding in the end.”

Paying for it now?”

You mean I got a taste but not enough to satisfy, hence my alleged actions here?”


You a shrink too, Colonel?”

You get to know a good deal about the human condition working for an organisation like this one, believe me.”

The human condition? Let me tell you about the human condition, Colonel. My old man was a doctor, and a damned good one too. The only mistake he ever made was marrying my mother. I tell you, Colonel, that bitch ruined his life, made him question every goddam thing he ever did. But who's to say what I might have been had I popped out of some other woman? I might have ended up a lawyer pretending to be a Colonel pretending to be a soldier.”

Hardly bears thinking about does it, but tell me more about your father.”

Hell, you even sound like a shrink now. Like I said, he was a good doctor, and had a good list of patients, but he always made a point of looking after those who couldn't afford a doctor, and in Oak Park that meant the Indians on the reservations on the north side of Horton Lake, and in the woods, Cherokee mostly but with the fire long gone, and most of the men toothless and drunk, with the best building skyscrapers in Chicago, and the woman pregnant most of the time from those who were too lazy to find a job. And the old man used to go out in his boat and take me with him, and he'd treat whoever needed treatment, and never charge a blind cent which made the Bitch as angry as Hell I can tell you. I remember one day in the early spring we set out because the old man had heard from a hunter that a young pregnant woman was in a bad way, needed help fast. We found her writhing in this filthy bed in a broken down log cabin. She couldn't have been more than fourteen, with black hair, and eyes that never left my face, and a mouth that wanted to scream, but there were no women around to hear her scream the scream that meant new life, just a drunk husband twice her age asleep in his own vomit. The old man gave him one hell of a kick and asked him why the hell he hadn't called him, but the bastard just took another slug from his bottle of bad whiskey and fell asleep again. Then the old man gave the girl an examination, and I could hear him suck the air in through his teeth and shake his head. Then he turned and looked at me.

- Son, we've got a bad one and no mistake. I've got to cut her to get the baby out or they'll both die. Do you understand?

- Yes, Pa.

- Good boy. Now I want you to go behind the bed and hold the girl's hands hard while I put a morphine pad over her mouth. Now, she's going to think I'm trying to kill her and will probably struggle hard, but you hold onto her, son, until she's out. Got that?

- Yes, Pa.

"And she did, too, struggle that is, and scream for real this time, and her husband came to and went for the old man with a knife when he saw him cut her but the sight of the blood made the punk again and pass right out in the dirt. But the old man did a good job. Delivered a perfect baby boy, then sowed the girl up neat as a carpet seam. We gave the baby to an old woman we found sitting outside the cabin, and the old man told her to look after the girl, and get one of the elders to give her husband a lecture on being a father, and the old girl clucked like a hen when the old man put that baby in her arms. We heard a few days later that the girl and her baby were okay, but that the husband had cut his throat because my old man had touched his wife. All the old man could say was good riddance, and I guess he was right. How's that for the human condition, Colonel?”

Have another drink, Mr Hemingway?”

No thanks, think I'll get to bed.”

Sleep well. See you in the morning at nine, prompt.”

But Hemingway didn't sleep much that night for thinking about that Indian girl and his father, who'd spoiled everything by shooting himself.

The following morning the hotel's small oak panelled dining room is crowded with various US Army personnel, including Colonel Lanham, who are talking to each other in hushed tones, plus a small group of correspondents who, for the most part, are silent (some are smoking) each one busy with their own thoughts. A tall, white helmeted US Army MP is standing in front of the main door: no one comes or goes without his permission. Suddenly there's a loud knock on the door and the MP allows Colonel Park to enter. The room becomes quiet as Park walks to the far end of the room, moves around a large desk and sits facing the door. There is a large window behind Park through which can be seen the US Army, and the local population, going about their business. In the far distance can be heard artillery fire. There is another knock on the door, and the MP allows Ernest Hemingway - who is accompanied by another MP - to enter. Hemingway, who is wearing a grey tweed suite, white shirt and red tie, and carrying a briefcase, looks around the room, nodding to anyone he recognises, with a special wide grin for Lanham. In a relaxed fashion Hemingway sits at another desk facing Park, opens his briefcase and takes out several closely typed sheets of paper. All is silent except for distant artillery fire.

A US Army captain, now addresses the court.

All rise.”

The captain waits until everyone is standing.

This military investigation and interrogation of Ernest Hemingway, commencing this day, the 6th of October, 1944, in the American occupied sector known as S.H-2, Nancy, North Eastern France, and in the temporary HQ of the Inspector General, US Third Army (Rear), is now in session, with Inspector General Colonel Clarence C. Park, presiding. You may sit.

Colonel Park opens a file in front of him and reads to himself for a moment before addressing Hemingway.

Mr Hemingway, please state your full name, occupation and station.

Ernest Miller Hemingway, war correspondent, Collier's Weekly, APO 887.

Mr Hemingway, I am required to caution you with regard to your rights with respect to the twenty-fourth Article of War. Which is as follows. Captain would you please read out the relevent part of said Article for the benefit of Mr Hemingway?”

The captain picks up a sheet of paper and reads...

Every person not belonging to the Army of the United States who, being duly subpoenaed to appear as a witness before a court-martial, or before an officer, military or civil, designated to take a deposition to be read in evidence before a court-martial wilfully neglects or refuses to appear or refuses to qualify as a witness or to testify or produce documentary evidence which such persons may have been legally subpoenaed to produce shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour, that no witness shall be compelled to incriminate himself or to answer any question which may tend to incriminate or degrade him.”

Thank you, Captain. Do you understand you rights as a witness, Mr Hemingway?

I understand them, Colonel.”

Mr Hemingway, were you in Rambouillet on August 22nd to 25th just before the French Armoured Division entered Paris?

I was.”

Will you state briefly what you were doing there?”

May I stand, Colonel?”

You may.”

Hemingway stands and reads.

On August 19th I stopped at the Command Post of the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the First Division just outside of Maintenon, in my capacity as war correspondent accredited to the Third Army, to ask for any information on the fighting at the front. This regiment was in a holding position, and the G-2 and G-3 of this regiment. Oh, and for those of you in this room who don't know what G-2, and G-3 mean - and I can see some of you looking a little puzzled - well those are the guys who handle regimental intelligence and operational details. Anyway these guys showed me the disposition of their battalions and of their main advanced outpost, which was at a point a short distance beyond Epernon, on the road to Rambouillet, and was the Regimental Command Post. Hopefully my fellow correspondents can follow what must be for them, I realise, rather difficult technical language.”

There is laughter from the court.

Mr Hemingway I would ask that you do not address the court in such a way, unless asked to do so.

Of course, Colonel, I just felt it might be helpful...”

Mr Hemingway, please continue.”

Well, as I was saying, I was informed there was heavy fighting in progress outside Rambouillet. I knew the country and the roads around Epernon, Rambouillet, Trappes, and Versailles well as I had bicycled, walked, and driven a car through this part of France for many years, especially in the 1920s when I used to take Bumby, that's my son John - who's now serving bravely with the OSS - on Picnics...”

Perhaps we might stick with the matter in hand, Mr Hemingway, we only have today to complete this investigation.”

My apologies, Colonel, but I just felt it might suggest how well I know the area, unlike some people in this room today, and how important I felt it was for me to share that knowledge with the military?”

Of course. But if you would continue?”

Hemingway looks at his papers.

At the official outpost of the 22nd Infantry Regiment I encountered some French civilians who had just come in from Rambouillet by bicycle. I was the only person at the outpost who spoke French.”

It is my understanding, Mr Hemingway, that at least one US soldier at that Command Post at that time could speak French?”

Well, Colonel, he didn't make himself known to me, and things were pretty fluid manpower wise back then.”


These civilians informed me the last of the Germans had left Rambouillet at three o'clock that morning but that the roads into the town were mined. They reported that contrary to the information given at the Command Post of the 22nd there was no fighting in progress outside of Rambouillet at all.”

That is quite a contradiction. Could you not hear firing from the vicinity of Rambouillet?”

Shooting could be heard, Colonel, but it was hard to determine were it was coming from.


Well, I started to return to regimental headquarters with this information which I thought should be placed in the hands of the proper authorities as soon as possible. But I soon realised, after driving a short way down the road back to Maintenon, it might be better to return and get the French civilians and take them to the Regimental Command Post so they themselves could be interrogated and give further information.”

Is that what you did, Mr Hemingway?”


Please go on.”

When I reached the outpost again I encountered two cars full of French guerrilla fighters.”

The civilians had gone?”

Yes. I guess they wanted to get to some place of safety, and who can blame them?”

What happened then?”

As I said, I encountered these guerrilla fighters, most of whom were naked to the waist. They were armed with pistols and Sten-guns.”

Were you armed at this time, Mr Hemingway?”

No, sir!”

Where did the guerrilla fighters obtain their arms?”

They told me the British had dropped them by parachute.”

What kind of pistols were they, Mr Hemingway?”


Is it likely, Mr Hemingway, that the British would have dropped German Luger pistols to Free French Fighters?”

I have to say that crossed my mind at the time, but the British are very devious, so I gave it little thought.”

You say you were not carrying arms at this time?”


So when did you start carrying arms?”

I did not, at any time, carry arms, Colonel Park.”

There is a commotion in courtroom, and the word “liar” is shouted out.

Silence! I will not have such behaviour, or slanderous language, in my courtroom. If it happens again the person responsible will be removed. “

The room becomes silent.

Mr Hemingway, please continue with your story.”

After talking with the French guerrilla fighters it became clear that what the civilians had told me was true. What I also soon realised, by talking with the guerrillas, was that they possessed additional information on the state of the roads, information I felt I must get back to the proper authorities. Consequently I conducted them back to the Regimental Command Post of the 22nd Infantry, where I translated their information. I then returned to the outpost, in my capacity as a war correspondent, to wait for the mine-clearing detail, and a reconnaissance troop that were to rendezvous with these French guerrillas. “

This is the first we've heard of a mine-clearing detail, and a reconnaissance troop, Mr Hemingway. When was all this organized? “

At the Regimental Command Post of the 22nd Infantry. The guerrilla fighters explained, in fact confirmed what the civilians had said, that the main road into Rambouillet was mined. I translated that to the G-2 at the CP, sorry, Command Post, and he organized a mine-clearing detail to get there as soon as possible. “

Thank you for that clarification. Did the G-2 say how long that might take? “


One assumes there was a good deal of mine clearance work going on at the time so the detail could have taken hours, even days to arrive? “

Hours, yes. Days? No. The road to Rambouillet was vital in getting American troops, and the French, into Paris. I guess it would have taken priority. “

You guess?”

I'm no general, Colonel, but even I could see how important that road, and the town of Rambouillet, was. The mines had to be cleared, and fast. The G-2 at the Command Post knew that. Colonel Lanham, as a brilliant field officer, would have known that too. And I guess Patton knew that?”

I guess he probably did. Please continue.”

If I can recap, Mr Hemingway? My records state that you asked a G-2 at the Regimental Command Post of the 22nd Infantry if he could arrange for a mine clearing detail to go to the main road leading into Rambouillet as quickly as possible?”


Perhaps you would be good enough to tell us what happened then?”

After leaving the RCP of the 22nd I proceeded toward Rambouillet as a war correspondent, and as an interpreter for the troops which were to be sent on mine clearing and reconnaissance duties.”

Had you been asked to act as an interpreter, and if so, by whom?”

I probably mentioned to the G-2 that I was a fluent French speaker and could be of help translating.”

And did the G-2 agree to this?”

I remember him saying something like, 'yes sure', I don't remember exactly.”

Please continue.”

When I got back to the official outpost the French guerrilla fighters were still there. I explained that mine clearing and reconnaissance troops were on the way. We sat and waited and I remember some of the French guys started playing boules, with the rest just sitting around cleaning their guns, or smoking. I remember one guy was even reading Proust. Anyway, after a couple of hours the troops still hadn't arrived and I could see the guerrillas were getting a bit restless. We waited a little while longer, still no troops, and then one of them came up to me and said he and his comrades had decided to place themselves under my command. I told them that as a war correspondent I could not command troops, and that they had a commander. They said he was no good, and that they would sooner take their chances with me.”

Was this the first time you had told them you could not, as a war correspondent, command troops?”

Yes, there had been no reason to speak of such things earlier.”

Good, carry on.”

Like I said they repeated they would sooner take their chances with me than their existing commander.”

Do you remember his name, Mr Hemingway?”


The commander of the French guerrillas. His name?”

No, I don't.”

His name was Marceau, Tahon Marceau.”

Is that right?”

It is. I'm surprised you don't remember.”

I don't recall even speaking to him.”

He remembers talking to you, remembers very well, and how he told you himself about the mined road. I have his deposition here. Would you like to read it?”

I'll take your word for it, Colonel. Perhaps I did speak to him. And perhaps he didn't make it clear to me who he was?”

Perhaps. Continue.”

It soon became obvious I had to do something to keep these guys from getting too restless, so I agreed to go with them to the mined road so that they might establish a guard to prevent any American vehicles from running into it.”

You simply went along, you did not go as their commander?”

That is correct.”

The questioning would continue for the rest of day, with, around 4pm, Park asking:

Did you state to anyone at about this time, ' I am no longer a correspondent.'?”

I didn't make any such statement in a serious sense. I may have said jokingly ' I am no a hotel manager, the bouncer for this joint, the un-thanked billeting clerk, and general errand boy around the establishment,' but in the serious sense that I was not a correspondent it would be impossible for me to make such a statement since I was an accredited correspondent for Collier's Weekly and am so earning my living.”

And that was pretty well that, with the case against Hemingway effectively found un-proven.

There can be little doubt that Park simply went through the motions and that Hemingway had been coached – probably by the military – in his replies to Park's questions.

Hemingway continued as a correspondent, covering the Hurtgen Forest campaign, and some of the Battle of the Bulge.

Early the following year – 1945 – he was aboard a military transport plane on his way home.

Note: Although based on documented evidence some of the dialogue is invented.

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