Ernest Hemingway Gets The Bronze Star: Cuba, June 1947

Two Mrs Hemingways looks after a very sick Patrick Hemingway, Ernest falls out with William Faulkner, and gets the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service…

Ernest and Mary and Cat. JFK Library

Though work went well on the novels, with nine hundred pages of The Garden of Eden still in longhand, Hemingway was, in 1947, 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. The two boys then set off to Cuba, but soon after they arrived 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 became feverish and delirious, and by the evening had turned violent. Ernest diagnosed neglected concussion. He 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 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 completely 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 banter about their attendance at the Hemingway University.

But it was becoming obvious to both Mary and Pauline that Hemingway was exhausted too, 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.

William Faulkner 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 he 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.

When Hemingway arrived back at the Finca he received news that Max Perkins had died.

Read when Ernest and Mary Married in 1946

Read how Ernest Saved Mary’s life in 1946

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