Spanish Civil War veteran honored with plaque installed in Berkeley

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The memory of Robert Merriman, Spanish Civil War veteran and campus alumnus, was honored with a plaque that was installed in Berkeley.

Campus senior Milton Zerman reached out to the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project last summer while taking a course on the history of fascism and inquired about installing the physical plaque. After Zerman raised about $1,400 through a GoFundMe page, the project became a reality earlier this month and is located a few blocks north of campus at 2517 Virginia St.

“Robert Merriman was an American legend whose bravery led him to fight and give his life in the struggle to preserve democracy in Spain,” Zerman wrote in an email. “But before that, he was a Berkeley student beloved by his compatriots, including the famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith and the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.”

Adam Hochschild, campus lecturer and author, wrote in an email that his book, “Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939,” inspired Zerman’s work for Merriman’s plaque.

Merriman became one of the first Americans to volunteer to serve in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and later became one of the highest-ranking Americans in the war effort before he was killed in 1938, according to Hochschild.

Hochschild added that he wants to see a memorial on campus erected for UC Berkeley students who fought in Spain in what he calls “a struggle against fascism that in many ways was the first battle of World War II.”

“There are various memorials to World War I and World War II veterans on the campus,” Hochschild wrote in the email. “Why not also to the vets of this war?”

Merriman is someone whose history resonates with the city of Berkeley as a whole, according to Robert Kehlmann, chair of the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project.

Kehlmann said he has already received positive feedback about the plaque from people in the community and added that plaques “liven” the city.

“We hope to better inform people in Berkeley about their built environment and what its history is,” Kehlmann said. “Hopefully that will foster a greater respect for architectural preservation and landmark preservation and maintaining history, not letting it get lost in rapid development.”

The inscription on the plaque outlines Merriman’s life and final moments, while also portraying Merriman as the inspiration for the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” according to Zerman.

Zerman added that, like Hochschild, he hopes to further document and archive stories of other campus students and Berkeley residents who fought in the Spanish Civil War.

“Merriman embodies the ideals that bind us all as Berkeley students — especially our enthusiasm for involvement and activism that I know will follow each and every one of us long after graduation,” Zerman wrote in the email.

Contact Olivia Buccieri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.