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FINLAND: Return from the Wars

2 minute read

Tough, erect little Oscar Penttila (pronounced Pen’-te-la) was born in Finland 37 years ago. Like many another Finnish youngster, he went to Germany for military training during World War I, helped chase the Russians out of Finland in 1918. Five years later he turned up in Mexico, fought on the losing side of a revolution, fled to the U. S. Battle-hardened at 20, he became successively a mechanic in Galveston, Tex., a chauffeur in Manhattan. Last December he smelled powder again, quit his job, went off to fight the Russians in Finland once more. Last week he was back with a story.

When the Gripsholm landed him and 69 other volunteers in Finland, Oscar Penttila was straightway re-enrolled as a captain, given a battalion which included 20 other U. S. volunteers. They went out on 58 ski patrols, fought Russians 40 times, lost one dead and three wounded. Of some 500 U. S. and Canadian volunteers (including expatriate Finns) who got to Finland, about 40 saw front-line fighting, 14 were killed. Some were unfit for soldiering. Many needed training, were still getting it at camps in northern Finland when the war ended. In Finnish towns where they were sent to await shipment home, the volunteers were so royally treated that many stayed put.

Last week the Finnish freighter Mathilda Thordén brought Oscar Penttila home from the wars. Jammed aboard the freighter were 109 returning volunteers, 18 Jewish refugees—and a stink which immediately wafted through the Manhattan press. While most of them went quietly on their way, a handful of the returning warriors growled that they had been shamefully treated: they were fed “slops” from a rolling army field kitchen on the main deck, had to sleep in the ship’s suffocating hold.

All united in a common dislike for a brown-skinned, fabulous figure who appeared on deck in a navy blue uniform, well loaded with gold braid and perfume: Harlem’s Hubert Fauntleroy (“Black Eagle”) Julian, who had previously distinguished himself by crashing the Emperor of Ethiopia’s airplane. His critics on the Mathilda Thordén averred that Pilot Julian 1) had arrived in Finland 13 days after the war ended; 2) even if he was a commissioned captain (as he had Finnish papers to prove), he had no right to wear a Finnish military attache’s uniform. Captain (erstwhile “Colonel”) Julian nevertheless kept his uniform, escaped to glory in Harlem.

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