By Julie Morris / The Detroit News
Milo Radulovich, 26, was a WWII veteran, finishing his education at the University of Michigan on the GI Bill. He was hoping to get a degree in physics so he could advance in his career as a meteorologist. He lived in Dexter, Mi., with his wife Nancy and their two daughters. He was doing very well in his junior year and hoped to obtain a government job after school.
He had joined the Army Air Corps in 1944 and became a meteorologist. He was a first lieutenant when he was discharged in 1952. As a weather forecaster, he had top-secret clearance and was required to remain in the reserves. In September 1953 he received a letter informing him he was being dismissed from the reserves as a poor security risk because his continued relationship with his father and sister who were deemed left-wing sympathizers.
The nation was caught in a “red scare” hysteria, whipped up by the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy. Milo’s father, John, had immigrated to Detroit in 1914 from Serbia and was labeled a communist because he subscribed to a pro-Communist paper from Serbia. The fact that he also subscribed to the anti-Communist paper was deemed irrelevant. The elder Radulovich didn’t speak or read English well and subscribed to both Serbian-language newspapers to keep up on events in his native Serbia.
Milo’s sister, Mrs. Margaret Fishman, was labeled a Communist because she had attended suspected communist meetings and demonstrations. Milo Radulovich was guilty by association.
Few attorneys were willing to take on his case, fearing they themselves would be labeled as communist sympathizers, but Milo was referred to Charles C. Lockwood, who had a reputation for representing underdogs. He took Milo’s case without charge.
Lockwood convinced Milo to tell his story to the Detroit News. To their surprise the story was published on the front page the next day. An old Army and college buddy of Milo’s — Attorney Kenneth Sanborn — saw the article and volunteered to help, also free of charge.
On October 14, 1953, The News printed another front-page article on the case, and this time it attracted the attention of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow in New York. Murrow hosted a television newsmagazine show called “See It Now,” where he occasionally focused on what he called the “little picture”. Murrow was anxious to expose Sen. McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts and had been waiting for the right story of an average citizen being persecuted. When he read of Milo Radulovich he was certain he had found it.
Murrow took The Detroit News story to his CBS producer Fred Friendly. Friendly immediately dispatched reporter Joe Wershba to Dexter to interview Radulovich, his father and sister. Wershba called Friendly that evening and told his this was definitely the story they needed.
In the days prior to the broadcast of Murrow’s show on Radulovich, CBS executives distanced themselves from it, fearing a backlash from the show’s sponsor, Alcoa Aluminum, which was a major U.S. Air Force supplier. Alcoa decided that it would drop its midshow commercial to avoid problems with the government.
As the October 20 broadcast date approached CBS refused to advertise it in the media. Friendly and Murrow spent $1,500 of their own money to place an ad promoting the show in the New York Times. A nervous CBS demanded they pay cash in advance so the network would not be involved.
After the broadcast, calls began pouring in to CBS from around the nation praising Murrow and the show. New York Times television critic John Crosby described Murrow as “The St. George of Television.” Oddly the program was not aired in Detroit by the local CBS affiliate.
The show was, according to Friendly, “the shortest half hour in the history of television.” It consisted of filmed interviews with Milo, his wife, and father. CBS reporters had combed the town of Dexter looking for opposition to Milo but all supported his fight.
On November 24, five weeks after the show aired, Harold E. Talbott, Secretary of the Air Force, reversed the findings of the administrative board of three Air Force colonels that had declared Radulovich a security risk. He was cleared of all charges.
It was the beginning of the end for Sen. McCarthy. Murrow aired an attack on McCarthy in March of 1954 and gave McCarthy a show of his own to respond. McCarthy’s only response was to call Murrow a communist.
Radulovich recounted the case 14 years later in a Detroit News interview with Richard Ryan, “There is absolutely no question that it affected my life. It stopped me from achieving some of the goals I wanted to attain. I never got my college degree and that bugs the hell out of me.”
What Radulovich does remember with some pride, is that he may have contributed to bringing an end to the “Red scare” period. “This compensates me for nearly everything I lost. There are probably a lot of guys floating around now washing garbage cans who were involved in the same period. And there might have been a lot more. I consider myself really lucky. It is only by the grace of public opinion that I was able to carry my fight. If it hadn’t been for The Detroit News I don’t know where I would be today. Where else but in this country can you find a free press that is willing to express itself to save a little man?”
Milo Radulovich eventually retired as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service and lives in Sacramento.
The following appeared in The Detroit News on January 5, 1954, as a Letter to the Editor:
Your participation in the fight to vindicate our family from the attacks of an unknown enemy caused you, I am sure, to invest much of your professional time and talent toward our ultimate victory.
Your energetic efforts in our behalf aided the work of our attorneys, Charles C. Lockwood and Kenneth N. Sanborn, in bringing the truth to our governmental authorities in Washington.
Your fight in the case of my son, Milo Radulovich, and his family caused our people to take up the fight for complete vindication. The word “thank you” is small indeed. We are happy and we hope that God will reward your efforts.
Happy 1954 to all of you.