Why Samuel Dashiell Hammett, the author of numerous short stories and several novels, including The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man (from which a successful six-part film franchise, then a television series, was produced) on Memorial Day? I don’t think most people realize that Hammett served in the United States military twice, enlisting in 1918, then again in 1943. At the height of his literary fame, at the age of 48, he joined the army as a private and was stationed in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where he edited The Adakian, the camp newspaper.
Hammett identified as a leftist, which made his voluntary service in the U.S. military even more baffling to his left-leaning social circle, including his lover, playwright Lillian Hellman. In fact, after the war, Hammett began teaching writing courses at the Jefferson School of Social Science, operated by the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) in New York City. Later, famously, Hammett was summoned to testify on his activities with the Civil Rights Congress, of which he was elected president in June of 1946. He inculpated himself in the group’s activities, but refused to name the other people involved in the organization. For his refusal to name names, this veteran of service in two wars with the United States Armed Services served a six-month jail sentence for contempt of court.
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