Ernest Hemingway, an Uncommon Man that Lived a Life Almost too Fantastic to be Real.
Every man has moments in life to boast about, moments that define his masculinity, his fortitude — moments that tell the story of who he is and what he stands for.
For men of the early 20th century, those moments came as soldiers, hunters, passionate defenders of a cause. Warriors of a proud race whose word was their bond and whose lives set the standard for all who’d travel their path.
This was back when men were men — role models, the kind of guys you look up to. And of those men, none was more a monument of enigmatic masculinity than Ernest Miller Hemingway.
Having accomplished more than anyone could ever dream of and immortalizing a biography almost too fantastic to be real, Hemingway survived multiple World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, and enjoyed an unprecedented career of journalism, adventure, and praise.
Many of his actions spread throughout the world as he rose through higher echelons as a renowned writer and avid hunter who believed real men live life to the fullest.
Even just a peek inside the life of this extraordinary squire sends shivers down backs and inspires some of the greatest figures of our time to strive for something more and push the boundaries of what it means to be alive.
Although Hemingway would never admit it, he was a symbol of manhood. A gentleman millions of others would attempt to replicate. A figure of strength and glory for every age from peppy lads to wise grandfathers.
But what exactly separates a man like Hemingway from the pack? What makes his story so profound and how did he step forth as a man among men to carve his name among the gods?
A True Wartime Hero
Men of the early 20th century were often veterans of this war or that, but Hemingway went beyond. After the United States entered World War I, he attempted to enlist in the Army but was denied due to poor eyesight. This did nothing to slow his resolve and he opted to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver for the Italian army instead.
During his time as a driver he came under fire and a well-placed mortar filled his leg with shrapnel. Despite enormous pain, he drove on. In a true demonstration of iron will, Hemingway took the cigarettes from his load and used them to fill the holes in his leg. Not only did he manage to safely return, bootstrap first aid and all, he rescued an Italian soldier along the way. His actions would later earn him the Silver Medal of Military Valor and a short stint in a hospital.
Years later when the Nazi party had risen to power in Germany, Hemingway once again daringly served the armed forces in his own way. This time he converted his large sport fishing boat, the Pilar, into a Nazi-hunting u-boat that helped the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence clear its Eastern waters of the submerged terrors.
The ship was stealthy, it’s outward appearance a fishing vessel, but hidden upon it’s creaky deck was a massive cache of weaponry for attacking surfacing u-boats before they came to know the secret power they were dealing with.
It was incredibly dangerous work, and any day could have been his last. Yet in typical fashion Hemingway maintained his steely-eyed gaze, looked toward the future and showed no fear.
Instead he dove even deeper into the war efforts to find new ways to shift the tides. Moving from hunter to foreign war correspondent stationed in Western Europe, Hemingway would see some of the greatest battles straight from the front lines.
As a correspondent, Hemingway joined with the Royal Air Force for bomber missions with the lowest odds of survival yet. Here he followed infantry divisions across Europe always managing to find his way into situations where the fighting was heaviest.
For instance, as a firsthand observer of D-Day, still suffering from a concussion he received during a car crash, soldiers had to force Hemingway to stay aboard the ship. Otherwise he would have raced ashore alongside the allied soldiers likely to his certain demise.
It should be noted that being forced to stay behind seemed to only strengthen Hemingway’s desire to fight, which to his misfortune, would later land him in hot water with the army.
As the battles against Nazi Germany raged, Hemingway removed his non-combatant badge in order to fight as a soldier himself. He gathered a large group of Italian militia men who had the same eagerness to fight back against the Nazi’s and turned them into his own personal Battalion of Soldiers.
His new position carried with it a renewed makeshift title as Colonel of his men and he was well known among allied units they met while traveling the countryside wreaking havoc against enemy forces.
In fact, Hemingway became so well known, tales tell he used his personal armory to storm a cellar of SS soldiers and take it by force after lobbing a grenade inside. His men are also said to have aided in the liberation of Paris and many other battles, blatantly defying the Geneva Conventions laws for journalists.
Nothing and no one could stand before the might of Hemingway’s drive to become a Soldier of Distinction. He spat in the face of death itself to fight for what he believed in. Even after Europe, and after the army put him on trial, Hemingway’s defiant nature held strong and he brushed off their accusations like dirt from his trousers.
He even avoided allegations that he’d impersonated an officer by stating the title “Colonel” was nothing more than a meritorious nickname bestowed by his men.
Hemingway the Ultimate Sportsman
Stepping beyond the two World Wars, and the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway thirsted for excitement and challenge. A burning desire formerly filled by the cries of his enemies — some of the world’s most dangerous predators — was replaced by big game hunting as his next pastime thrill.
Hemingway had hunted since youth. Pheasant and duck taught him the ropes. Now his hunger was bigger. A drive for adventure and danger so strong he’d head to the East African wilderness for a Safari with legendary huntsman P.H. Percival. Together, the pair set off into the bush after the most lethal of Africa’s monsters.
Hemingway would again return to East Africa to test his mettle in 1954. This time he became a hunter of such acclaim that the local game warden left him temporarily in charge of the local district.
While in charge, Hemingway demonstrated his skills against nuisance lions and hardy elephants for the community. This earned him prestige as both an extremely adept hunter and a friend of locals who rewarded him with the deepest respect for his bravery.
It was also during his time in Africa that Hemingway displayed his unbelievable ability to withstand horrific injuries the likes of which send others crying home for mother.
He was flying a sightseeing trip over the Belgian Congo for one of his four wives, Mary, when the plane crashed after hitting an old utility pole. Mary broke two ribs and Hemingway suffered a critical head wound. Undeterred by his injuries, he was determined to get his wife to medical help and headed out on a second plane that exploded shortly after takeoff.
This accident left Hemingway suffering heavy burns and another head injury so severe he began to leak cerebral fluid. Still determined to reach help he eventually found a way to reach a town called Entebbe, where he discovered swarms of reporters preparing to tell the world of his untimely death. He spent a great deal of time clearing up the situation with the media, then spent several more weeks leisurely reading his own obituaries as he recovered.
Hunting in the bush of East Africa, however, was not the place Hemingway’s hunting artistry would truly be tested. That would come from his adventures on the sea instead.
Yes, Hemingway was truly at home on his 38 foot fishing vessel, the Pilar, where he proudly stood with rod and reel on the prowl for the ocean’s mammoth creatures.
In 1935 he demonstrated his immense abilities as a fisherman by landing the largest marlin on record, weighing a stunning 1,175lbs. Even local fisherman had come to respect Hemingway, as he won every major fishing competition held in Key West, Havana, and even Bimini.
It was impossible not to respect and stand in awe of his ability on the water. In one instance, Hemingway pulled a large shark aboard his boat still thrashing. It was such a brute he’d have to shoot it to gain control. But when the monster thrashed around on the deck and Hemingway attempted to fire, he missed and accidentally shot himself in the leg. He then reloaded and fired again to put the massive maceral down once and for all.
It was an almost unbelievable tale that Hemingway often had to prove with pictures and hospital documents, as he did with many of his adventures. Although in some cases he had to prove his abilities physically rather than with photos; something he was more than ready to do anytime and anywhere.
Hemingway also practiced boxing from an early age. It became one of his greatest passions alongside hunting vicious beasts and offing Nazi forces. In a particularly noteworthy event, local fishermen of Bimini were outraged by the newcomer who’d recently won all of the local fishing competitions. It was emasculating being beaten on waters they’d fished their entire lives.
In response to their outbursts, the now infamous journalist and sportsman challenged those locals to a boxing competition. If they could stand up to him in the ring for three rounds he’d hand over the prize money and the fame.
Of course the locals brought forth their strongest fighter, convinced he couldn’t possibly be beaten. Unfortunately their fighter lasted less than a minute before Hemingway put him on the ground, lights out. Three other challengers stepped forth and fell just as quickly and soon Hemingway had proven himself to be a towering figure inside the ring and out.
The competition spurred more than fame. It ignited Hemingway’s fighting spirit and he chose to have a boxing ring built in his backyard where he held more local competitions, challenging tough guys to come forward and prove their grit.
As if owning your own ring wasn’t enough, another famous event would clearly mark Hemingway’s ferocity with the sport. It started when a local fighter, who was being badly beaten by his opponent and the fighter’s manager, “Shine” Forbes, attempted to end the fight by throwing in the towel.
Hemingway, who was acting referee, refused to stop the fight and threw the towel back out of the ring twice as Forbes’ fighter tried to rise to his feet again and again. Eventually Forbes himself was forced to enter the ring to stop the fight by punching Hemingway, effectively ending the match.
It wasn’t until later that Forbes would discover who he’d punched, causing a great deal of embarrassment. When he found out, Forbes went to Hemingway immediately to apologize, but was brushed off as though there was nothing to be sorry about. In fact, Hemingway was impressed with Forbes show of toughness and the two became good friends, hosting many more sparring matches to entertain guests.
Surviving the Impossible
Of all the exploits that helped transform Hemingway into a legend for boys and men everywhere, his ability to survive and seemingly shrug off unbelievable injuries rank among the top. Throughout his existence, Hemingway sustained a shocking number of virtually fatal injuries that might kill lesser men.
Beginning with the shrapnel wound from WWI, followed by untold other injuries. The gunshot he suffered wrestling a shark on the Pilar, the splitting head wounds from successive plane crashes, the countless fights…
Let’s not forget how during one of the worst events, Hemingway, his wife, and their pilot were forced to camp overnight in Elephant country, an otherwise foolish mistake. Especially with the concussion he’d suffered. Not to mention It would be several days before they were able to make a second attempt at flying to the nearest city to get help. And it got worse from there when their second crash caused the already intensive colossus the worst wounds of his life.
It happened shortly after takeoff when the pilot was forced to dive to avoid a flock of birds, ultimately crashing into the ground where the plane burst into flames. Of the three, Hemingway was injured the worst with internal bleeding, first degree burns, a fractured skull, ruptured kidney, ruptured liver, ruptured spleen, and a crushed vertebrae. Injuries that wouldn’t be treated for several more days.
As If that weren’t shocking enough, it was Hemingway, not the pilot who pushed open the mangled door of the plane’s wreckage, holding it open so his wife and pilot could escape.
Add to that the amount of time it took before his wounds were treated that would have killed Hemingway if he hadn’t had the strength and tenacity to defy death no matter how high the odds were stacked against him.
In fact Hemingway’s strength was so great, when he finally evacuated he was still able to smile and joke with reporters who’d come to write about his demise.
AND, less than a month later he’d go on to survive a set of second degree burns on his hands and face, received while fighting a brush fire!
While no stranger to physical ailment, Hemingway was also regularly beating back some of the most terrifying diseases the world has ever known. At one time or another the sportsman fended off illnesses including anthrax, pneumonia, skin cancer, malaria, dysentery, hepatitis, anemia, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Few slowed him to less than a jog and his drive to experience life to its fullest, and craft a true definition of might both in his actions and his writing, was fulfilled.
Finding Truth in the Masculine Legend
Because of how extraordinary Hemingway’s life was and how fantastic the stories surrounding him could seem; it’s been difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Even during his lifetime Hemingway often faced disbelief over many of the stories of his life by critics and friends. It seemed impossible to anyone who didn’t know him well that a single man could have seen so much, done so much, and lived to tell the tale.
In order to dispel any doubt, Hemingway often supplied documents and photos of events as proof. Yet there are still many heroic tales the world may never discover the truth about.
Among those stories is a tale of how Hemingway, and his Italian militia unit, were the first to enter the liberated Paris, taking back the Ritz hotel from the Nazi’s. There is, of course, plenty of evidence to suggest this event never happened and others claim his unit arrived in France much later than he suggested.
Whether it’s true or not takes nothing away from the thrill that wide-eyed youths enjoy from his stories to this day, and the inspiration it fuels in their hearts to do something equally great.
Regardless of belief, few would ever attempt to deter from the macho image Hemingway created for himself, and most are content to say fact is stranger than fiction and that Hemingway was simply among the greatest figures of masculinity the world has ever known.
This is certainly the image family and friends would prefer to maintain of him. Even Hemingway’s four estranged wives have great respect for the legacy of their former husband.
He may not have been the perfect gentleman, the greatest father, or the best husband, but Hemingway was a person one couldn’t help but respect. From the time he was a boy, the future literary giant strove to do more than the average man. He endlessly pushed himself to greater and greater heights, pursuing a personal destiny only he would know. Most importantly he knew how to enjoy all of his adventures to the fullest in order to shape his writings and live life a free man by standards he defined.
The way we look back on Hemingway today is the sum of all of those experiences that shaped him into the heroic, larger-than-life figure men everywhere try to emulate. And while many of us couldn’t and wouldn’t want to go through all of the trials and tribulations he endured, we can still strive to find new ways to forge ourselves in the image of might of Ernest Miller Hemingway.
Founder, Hemingway Accoutrements