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A Young Pilot's Surprising Political Leanings

By Andrew Carroll 
Originally published on Published Online: March 04, 2013 
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Branded a left-wing peacenik during his 1972 presidential campaign against incumbent Richard M. Nixon, Senator George S. McGovern lost that race in a landslide, winning only Massa-chusetts and Washington, D.C. A major reason for his defeat was his opposition to the war in Vietnam; many McGovern supporters felt he should have emphasized his own military experience as a bomber pilot in World War II, which earned him the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism under fire. Throughout his service, McGovern wrote to his friend and future brother-in-law Bob Pennington. Days before the 1944 presidential election that pitted the incumbent, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, against Republican New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, a 22-year-old McGovern shared his candid—and, in hindsight, surprising—opinions.

Nov. 4, 1944
Dear Bob,
Well I'm writing this from a 15th Air Force Base in Italy, Bob. We haven't been here so very long, but are beginning to get into the swing of combat flying. It's a great deal like I expected it to be. Perhaps a little rougher in some respects and not so rough in other respects. At any rate I'm glad to get started on that string of missions we've been preparing for the last year and a half….

I suppose you have been following the political battles of Dewey and F.D.R. with your usual interest, Bob. I've sort of lost track of them lately, but the Stars and Stripes have sort of revived my interest. I'm going to be more than disgusted if Dewey doesn't win. I really think we need a man like Dewey in there now! I like the vigor, and efficiency that he has shown in the past and even in the way he is conducting his campaign. I think he'll do a lot toward clearing up all the dozen and one messes that the government is in now. For one thing he has a fairly definite attitude toward everything really vital and that's something the New Deal certainly hasn't had. I believe Dewey will give business a confidence in the government that they haven't had for quite awhile now. I like his plan for a simpler and definite tax policy. He also seems to be concerned with regaining the confidence of the people and of Congress in the president. I believe he can do it if he continues to stick to his guns and follow out a definite and straightforward platform. Have you read his recent eight point platform? It seems very good to me.

I hope this letter finds you O.K., Bob, and in good spirits.
Your friend, Mac

Roosevelt trounced Dewey and won a fourth term. After the war, McGovern earned his PhD in history, taught at his alma mater, and eventually entered politics. In 1956 he was elected to the House of Repre-sentatives, and in 1962 to the Senate, where he served until 1980. McGovern died on October 21, 2012, at age 90.

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