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May 6, 2014

Burying Senator McCarthy

Roy Meachum

Last week was the anniversary of the death of Joseph R. McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, right behind Alexander Wiley. Senator McCarthy branded himself as the leading tormentor of Communists, gays and thousands of civil servants. The day was May 3, 1957.


People, who worked for the government, whatever their politics, consciously avoided their office mates. Their reasons were varied; one of the most cited was the fear of Communists; some thought gays ranked up there. I chose the worst time to live in Georgetown; even when secure in their politics and gender, people in that part of Washington received social exile. I went to the college.


Things were clear in those days, either college or nursing studies or the School of the Foreign Service, headed by the Rev. Edmund Walsh, S.J. It was at Father Walsh’s suggestion that Senator McCarthy undertook the “red hunt.” Of course, the Jesuit had no idea where it would go.


Especially in Europe, when I was there, the committee’s counsels, Roy Cohen and David Schine, Schine was the guy Mr. Cohen’s asked to join the staff. The pair, made a scene all over the place. Whispers about their sleeping in the same bed could be heard. In European hotels, without fear of the senator, the rumors could be confirmed. Fortunately, for the nation’s sanity, the procedures fell apart. Joseph N. Welch represented the Department of the Army; he turned tears against the McCarthy staff, instead the indignation was turned on the senator.


The Washington Post invited me to join without knowledge when senator would choke. In his latter days the senator reeled about Capitol Hill, demanding the passers-by recognize him. The public legend had declined.


A Sunday night when I was checking out of the newspaper, the assistant city editor threw my next assignment. What amounted to casualness, I was told: show up St. Matthews’ the next morning to cover Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s last day in town.

My tie exhibited not a red color: this newspaper was known around town not to sympathize for the ex-Marine. God forbid the McCarthyites would spy the tie’s hue. From my days at Georgetown, I had a suit cut along classical lines: I wore nothing jazzy. I meant to fade into the background.


The procession moved from the cathedral to the Senate to the majestic chamber that was the Capitol. I amused myself by counting the senator’s last allies. We were supposed to travel to Andrews Air Force Base for the afternoon departures. I went back to the paper on M Street; they had yet to move. Figuring everything had gone well; New York Tavern was my ultimate goal. I went to my desk, noticed the clippings.


The elevators had been almost reached, when assistant city editor nabbed me. He asked with some ignition: “What did it mean joking about the deceased?” Other questions followed. I offered to return the assignment to the desk. He said nothing.


Senators rode with casket. I was disheartened by the rhubarb. Immediately we were called into Managing Editor Al Friendly’s office. Al heard the complaints and rejoined the other side of the story. The retired colonel who managed the diocesan community affairs had never wandered from the cathedral’s back; he saw me when I was in the church.


When this session was all over, I stayed behind. I told Mr. Friendly about the preparations about the clothing; he shut me up by replying he was the ultimate decision-maker about my assignment to the senator’s last day in town.



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