October 22, 2012 By Jack Jodell
I learned to my great sorrow that our nation had lost former SD Senator and unsuccessful 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern early yesterday. He was the person I cast my very first vote for President for in that election, and he was unfortunately buried in the cheating Dick Nixon landslide that year. Victimized by Watergate and a blitz of negative campaigning and dirty tricks played by the Nixon squad, he nonetheless saw his great and noble campaign through to the bitter end. May this great yet humble man rest in peace.
McGovern was a corageous R-24 pilot over German-occupied Europe during World War II, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for having made a difficult crash landing of his damaged plane which saved the lives of his crew. The son of a Wesleyan Methodist pastor, he was born in the small South Dakota farming town of Avon, SD., but spent part of his childhood in Calgary, Alberta, where his ailing maternal grandmother lived. In 1928, his family moved back to Mitchell, SD, where George began school. Here he witnessed and experienced firsthand the destruction wrought on by dust storms on the Midwestern prairie and grasshopper plagues during the Great Depression. As part of a pastor’s family, which during the 1920s and 1930s was always living near poverty, the young McGovern developed a lifelong affinity for the poor and downtrodden, especially underpaid laborers and farmers struggling to sibsist. He was further influenced by the practical divinity teachings of John Wesley, which encouraged followers to fight poverty, ignorance, and injustice as part of their Christian duty.
After high school, where he had learned to excel in debate, McGovern enrolled in a divinty school. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused him to dimmediately enlist in the Army Air Force. As the army did not yet have enough aircraft or airfields to meet the needs of all who swarmed to enlist, he was advised to stay in school until called to service. He remained in school and in 1942 won a statewide speech contest with a speech entitled “My Brother’s Keeper.” It was later deemed one of the best speeches of 1042 by the National Council of Churches. The following year, he and a partner won a national debate contest which included entrants from over 100 schools. Then, finally, the military called him up. Having previously engaged in flight taining courses, he was soon piloting a B-24 Liberator airplane and began a successful series of bombing runs in Europe. He was discharged from the Army Air Force in July, 1945, and received the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters for his outstanding service. McGovern returned home and went back to his studies, eventually earning a B.A. For a couple of years, he preached at a church in IL, but eventually left the ministry to pursue graduate studies at Northwestern University. He earned an M.A. and later a PhD in history. He taught history and political science for a time before beginning his own career in public service, first as a two-term U.S. Representative, and later as a three-term, highly principled U. S. Senator. Prior to his election to the Senate, McGovern served as President Kennedy’s first director of the newly-formed Food for Peace program.
When George McGovern ran for President in 1972, he captured my imagination with his genuine sincerity and deep moral conviction in opposition to the Vietnam war. He pointed out the corruption and also tremendous waste associated with the continuation of the war and also decried the horrific effect it was having on the poor both here and in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he was cynically portrayed by the Nixon forces as being “weak” on defense, and was consequently defeated in a landsline. He carried only one state in that election, and lost even his own state to Nixon. McGovern was unfortunately swallowed up in another landslide 8 years later, that of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and failed in his attempt to attain a fourth term in the Senate.
George McGovern was a very rare person: a totally honest man who worked tirelessly in public life for the constituents of his state and for the poor and meek of this world in general. He was a war hero who came to recognize the futility of war and instead became a champion of peace. He was greatly respected and will be sorely missed by this writer. Rest in eternale peace, Senator. You deserve your heavenly reward!