George Stanley McGovern (July 19, 1922 â?? October 21, 2012) was an U.S. Army pilot, an historian, author and U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1972 presidential election.
McGovern grew up in Mitchell, South Dakota, where he was a renowned debater. He volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Forces upon the country's entry into World War II and as a B-24 Liberator pilot flew 35 missions over German-occupied Europe. Among the medals awarded him was a Distinguished Flying Cross for making a hazardous emergency landing of his damaged plane and saving his crew.
HeÂ was sworn in as a private at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. He spent a month at Jefferson Barracks Military Post in Missouri and then five months at Southern Illinois Normal University in Carbondale, Illinois for ground school training; McGovern later maintained that both the academic work and physical training were the toughest he ever experienced. He spent two months at a base in San Antonio, Texas and then went to Hatbox Field in Muskogee, Oklahoma for basic flying school, training in a single-engined PTâ??19.
Lonely and in love, the couple decided to not wait any longer: during a three-day leave, McGovern married Eleanor Stegeberg on October 31, 1943, in a ceremony presided over by his father at the small Methodist church in Woonsocket. After three months in Muskogee, McGovern went to Coffeyville Army Airfield in Kansas for a further three months of training on the BTâ??13. Around April 1944, McGovern went on to advanced flying school at Pampa Army Airfield in Texas for twin-engine training on the ATâ??17 and ATâ??9. Throughout, Air Cadet McGovern showed skill as a pilot, with his exceptionally good depth perception aiding him. Eleanor McGovern followed him to these different duty stations, and was present when he received his wings and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.
McGovern was assigned to Liberal Army Airfield in Kansas and its transition school to learn to fly the Bâ??24 Liberator, an assignment he was pleased with. McGovern recalled later: "Learning how to fly the Bâ??24 was the toughest part of the training. It was a difficult airplane to fly, physically, because in the early part of the war, they didn't have hydraulic controls. If you can imagine driving a Mack truck without any power steering or power brakes, that's about what it was like at the controls. It was the biggest bomber we had at the time." Eleanor was constantly afraid of her husband suffering an accident while training, which claimed a huge toll of airmen during the entire war. This schooling was followed by a stint at Lincoln Army Airfield in Nebraska, where McGovern met his B-24 crew.
Traveling around the country and mixing with people from different backgrounds proved to be a broadening experience for McGovern and others of his generation. The USAAF sped up training times for McGovern and others due to the heavy losses that bombing missions were suffering over Europe. Despite, and partly because of, the risk that McGovern might not come back from combat, the McGoverns decided to have a child and Eleanor became pregnant. In June 1944, McGovern's crew received final training at Mountain Home Army Air Field in Idaho. They then shipped out via Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia, where McGovern found history books with which to fill downtime, especially during the trip overseas on a slow troopship.
On McGovern's December 15 mission over Linz, his second as pilot, a piece of shrapnel from flak came through the windshield and missed fatally wounding him by only a few inches. The following day on a mission to BrĂĽx he nearly collided with another bomber during close-formation flying in complete cloud cover. The following day, he was recommended for a medal after surviving a blown wheel on the always-dangerous B-24 take-off, completing a mission over Germany, and then landing without further damage to the plane.
On a December 20 mission against the Ĺ koda Works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, McGovern's plane had one engine out and another in flames after being hit by flak. Unable to return to Italy, McGovern flew to a British airfield on Vis, a small island in the Adriatic Sea off the Yugoslav coast that was controlled by Josip Broz Tito's Partisans. The short field, normally used by small fighter planes, was so unforgiving to four-engined aircraft that many of the bomber crews who tried to make emergency landings there perished. But McGovern successfully landed, saving his crew, a feat for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In January 1945, McGovern used R&R time to see every sight that he could in Rome, and to participate in an audience with the Pope. Bad weather prevented many missions from being carried out during the winter, and during such downtime McGovern spent much time reading and discussing how the war had come about. He resolved that if he survived it, he would become a history professor.
In February, McGovern was promoted to First Lieutenant. On March 14, McGovern had an incident over Austria in which he accidentally bombed a family farmhouse when a jammed bomb improvidentally released above the structure and destroyed it, an event which haunted McGovern. (Four decades later, after a McGovern public appearance in that country, the owner of the farm approached the media to let the Senator know that he was the victim of that incident but that no one had been hurt and the farmer felt that it had been worth the price if that event helped achieve the defeat of Nazi Germany in some small way. McGovern was greatly relieved.)
On returning to base from the flight, McGovern was told his first child Ann had been born four days earlier. April 25 saw McGovern's 35th mission, which marked the fulfillment the Fifteenth Air Force requirement for a combat tour, against heavily defended Linz. The sky turned black and red with flak â?? McGovern later said "Hell can't be any worse than that" â?? and the Dakota Queen was hit multiple times, resulting in 110 holes in its fuselage and wings and an inoperative hydraulic system. McGovern's waist gunner was injured, and his flight engineer was so unnerved by his experience that he would subsequently be hospitalized with battle fatigue, but McGovern managed to bring back the plane safely with the assistance of an improvised landing technique.
In May and June 1945, following the end of the European war, McGovern flew food relief flights to northern Italy, then flew back to the United States with his crew. McGovern was discharged from the Army Air Forces in July 1945, with the rank of First Lieutenant. He was also awarded the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, one instance of which was for the safe landing on his final mission.
After the war he gained degrees from Dakota Wesleyan University and Northwestern University, culminating in a Ph.D., and was a history professor. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956 and re-elected in 1958. After a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960, he was elected there in 1962.
As a senator, McGovern was an exemplar of modern American liberalism. He became most known for his outspoken opposition to the growing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He staged a brief nomination run in the 1968 presidential election as a stand-in for the assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. The subsequent McGovernâ??Fraser Commission fundamentally altered the Democratic presidential nominating process, by greatly increasing the number of caucuses and primaries and reducing the influence of party insiders.
The McGovernâ??Hatfield Amendment sought to end the Vietnam War by legislative means but was defeated in 1970 and 1971. McGovern's long-shot, grassroots-based 1972 presidential campaign found triumph in gaining the Democratic nomination but left the party badly split ideologically, and the failed vice-presidential pick of Thomas Eagleton undermined McGovern's credibility. In the general election McGovern lost to incumbent Richard Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in American history. Re-elected Senator in 1968 and 1974, McGovern was defeated in a bid for a fourth term in 1980.
Throughout his career, McGovern was involved in issues related to agriculture, food, nutrition, and hunger. As the first director of the Food for Peace program in 1961, McGovern oversaw the distribution of U.S. surpluses to the needy abroad and was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations-based World Food Programme. As sole chair of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs during 1968â??1977, McGovern publicized the problem of hunger within the United States and issued the "McGovern Report" that led to a new set of nutritional guidelines for Americans.
McGovern later served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture from 1998â??2001 and was appointed the first UN Global Ambassador on World Hunger by the World Food Programme in 2001. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program has provided school meals for millions of children in dozens of countries since 2000 and resulted in McGovern being named World Food Prize coâ??laureate in 2008.Â George McGovern was awarded the Presidental Medal of Freedom in 2000.
On the morning of October 21, 2012, McGovern died at age 90 at the Sioux Falls hospice, surrounded by family and lifelong friends. The family released this statement: "We are blessed to know that our father lived a long, successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive voice for millions and fighting for peace. He continued giving speeches, writing and advising all the way up to and past his 90th birthday, which he celebrated this summer."
Stephen E. Ambrose's "The Wild Blue," chronicles McGovern's 35 missions flown and actions for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross as a B-24 pilot over Europe during WWII. It was his exposure to suffering civilians in war-torn Europe that led him to become a lifelong advocate for solving world hunger.