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Ernest Hemingway gets the Bronze Star and Some Bad News - Cuba 1947



Hemingway Receives the Bronze Star     Photo: JFK
Throughout 1947 Hemingway was in a bad way both mentally and physically. Look at photographs of the man from this time and there is a far away, dreamy look in his eyes. But the novelist and Mary pretty much had the Finca to themselves in the early part of that year and were looking forward to Ernest's two youngest sons arriving. But on a visit to their mother both Patrick and Gregory were involved in a car crash. Although Gregory recovered quickly Patrick began to complain of headaches. Soon after the boys arrived in Cuba Mary was called away to Chicago where her father had been taken seriously ill with prostate cancer.

On the morning of the 14th of April Patrick was feverish and delirious, and by the evening had turned violent. Ernest quickly turned the Finca into a hospital and his staff into a team of nurses with each of them taking turns to watch over Patrick, with Hemingway himself taking the midnight watch. On the 16th Pauline arrived and took control of the Finca, and her son’s health. Hemingway reported to Mary that his ex-wife was “behaving admirably.” Pauline stayed until the 10th  May when Patrick was well enough to be left.




Mary returned to Cuba on the 18th of May completly exhausted. She just wanted to sleep. Five days later Pauline reappeared, and much to Ernest’s surprise the two Mrs Hemingways got on very well and amused him with “…some girlish banter about their attendance at the Hemingway University.”

But it was becoming obvious to both Mary and Pauline that Hemingway was exhausted, and showing signs of nervous strain that exploded into rage when he read in the press that fellow novelist, William Faulkner, had called him a coward.

Faulkner had said nothing of the sort of course. When talking with some students at the University of Mississippi Faulkner had said that Wolfe, Dos Passos, Erskine Caldwell, Hemingway, and himself were the best modern novelists around, but that they were all victims of what he called, “splendid Failure.” According to Faulkner Thomas Wolfe had made the best failure because his courage was greatest, and had risked clumsiness, and even dullness, in order to “shoot the works, win or loose, and damn the torpedoes.” Jon Dos Passos had sacrificed some courage, said Faulkner, “…to the demands of style…” and that Hemingway stood last on the list “…because he lacked the courage to get out on a limb of experimentation…” as the others had done.

Hemingway had, not unusually, got hold of the wrong end of the stick ( understandable in his condition) and thought Faulkner was talking about his physical courage. Faulkner should also have known better when we remember that Hemingway, along with Faulkner, were the two greatest experimental American literary stylists of the 20th century. Faulkner should have acknowledged this.

Hemingway immediately sent the newspaper clipping to Buck Lanham asking the general to write to Faulkner and tell him the truth about his behaviour under fire in 1944. Lanham did as he was bid and gave Faulkner a long account of Hemingway’s bravery which he concluded by saying that

 “…without exception he ( Hemingway) was the most courageous man I have ever known, both in war and peace. He has physical courage, and he has that far rarer commodity, moral courage.”

Faulkner sent a letter of explanation to Lanham, and one of apology to Hemingway. Ernest was satisfied, and it probably never occurred to him, or Faulkner, that they had both interpreted things incorrectly. Such is the ego.

On June the 13th 1947 Hemingway was awarded the Bronze Star at the US Embassy in Havana. The citation read:

“ Mr Ernest Hemingway has performed meritorious service as a war correspondent from 20 July to 1 September, and from 6 November to 6 December, 1944, in France and Germany. During these periods he displayed a broad familiarity with modern military science, interpreting and evaluating the campaigns and operations of friendly and enemy forces, circulating freely under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions. Through his talent of expression, Mr Hemingway enabled readers to obtain a vivid picture of the difficulties and triumphs of the front-line soldier and his organization in combat.”

By August of 1947 Hemingway’s headaches had come back, plus, the inside of his head had begun to buzz and hum, “…like the sound made by telephone wires along country roads.” Doctor Herrera discovered that Hemingway’s blood pressure had risen to 215 over 125, with his weight having risen alarmingly to nearly twenty stones. Herrera advised a strict diet. Hemingway only told Mary about this, and assured her that the holiday he’d promised himself in Sun Valley would do him good.


Hemingway set off in September in a new Buick Roadmaster, with Otto Bruce - a man who’d been on  Hemingway’s staff off and on for years - as driver. Once they got onto US soil they two men headed for Walloon Lake, and the cottage at Windemere that was now owned by Hemingway’s sister Sunny. After a stay-over at the lake Otto pointed the huge Buick westward and headed out across the great plains toward their destination in the foot hills of the Smoky Mountains.

Throughout the two day journey Hemingway regaled Otto of his boyhood adventures in the forests around the great lakes, and probably of his escapades in France just three years earlier. They reached Sun Valley late on the evening of the 29th September - when yours truly was just eight days old - and were given a suite at the Lodge.

Mary and Pauline had stayed behind at the Finca so that Pauline could help Patrick through his final weeks of convalescence, and for Mary to organise, with a local builder, a new tower for Hemingway to work in on his return, and a private roof space for Mary, and the cats, to sunbathe. Mary joined Ernest in Sun Valley in early  November, but then set-off again to spend Thanksgiving with Pauline, Jack, and Patrick in California. Hemingway wasn’t sure whether he should be pleased, or hurt, that his fourth wife wanted to spend so much time with his second.

But Hemingway was feeling much better, and had lost nearly two stones in weight, with his blood pressure now down to 150 over 104. Hemingway felt on top of the world, and spent his days shooting and fishing, and his evenings eating sensibly, and drinking only wine. Life was good as he waited for Mary to get back for Christmas.

Then the bad news started coming in.

The bad news had started a few months earlier with the death of his editor, and mentor, Max Perkins. Now news reached him that Katy Dos Passos, the wife of his old friend, the novelist Jon Dos Passos, had been decapitated in a motor car accident on the 12th of September, the day he and Otto had set off from Cuba. Then he heard that two of his former comrades in Spain had died, one from natural causes, the other from political assassination. Then came the dreadful news that his cook at the Finca, Ramón had died from a heart attack. And if that wasn’t enough Hemingway received a telegram from Hollywood telling him that Mark Hellinger had died suddenly, aged forty-four. That was bad enough but Ernest had only been paid half of the $50,000 Hellinger had guaranteed him for a three story deal they’d negotiated as a result of the success of The Killers, and that Hemingway would have to wait until Hellinger’s estate had been settled before he received the balance. Hemingway now had to borrow $12,000 off Scribners to help pay his tax bill for 1947.

Then, just before Christmas, a young woman by the name of Lillian Ross ‘phoned Hemingway asking if she might interview him with regard a magazine feature she was writing about the American bullfighter, Sidney Franklin.

“ Sure, honey.”

“ Thanks.”

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