, Salem, MA


June 8, 2013

Shribman: As the World War II veterans depart


Their war experiences deeply affected their political perspectives. Two Republicans, John Chafee of Rhode Island and John Warner of Virginia, both Marines, served as secretary of the Navy. George S. McGovern of South Dakota was a decorated B-24 Liberator pilot in World War II, and as Democratic presidential nominee in 1972 became the decade’s most outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War.

Two of them, Goldwater and John H. Glenn Jr. of Ohio, were defined by their experiences as test pilots, with Glenn eventually becoming an astronaut and taking two flights into space. Three of them — Dole, Daniel H. Inouye of Hawaii and Philip A. Hart of Michigan — suffered grievous war injuries and recovered on the same floor of the same military hospital in Michigan. All were outspoken, eloquent advocates for the rights of injured veterans.

Both presidential nominees in the elections of 1960, 1964 and 1972 were veterans of both the Senate and World War II. Veterans of the war, though not necessarily of the Senate, were nominees in 12 elections in a row (1952 to 1996), a remarkable record of one generation’s political dominance. That dominance can be extended to 13 consecutive elections if Strom Thurmond, an Army veteran who ran on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948, is included.

These men — there were no women — were marked by the consequences of appeasement at Munich in 1938, leading many of them to later oppose communist aggression in Vietnam and prompting one of them (Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin) to lend his name to an odious paranoid impulse in American civic life while fighting communism at home.

These men lived in a segregated society, leading some of them (Thurmond and Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia, among others) to fight the expansion of rights for blacks, and leading others (Ralph Yarborough of Texas and Jacob K. Javits of New York, for instance) to fight segregation and support voting rights.

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