A Word of Appreciation for George McGovern
Written by Pastor Jim Law
When I learned yesterday morning that George McGovern had passed away, I was taken back to Stephen Ambrose’s portrait of McGovern’s earlier life as a U.S. airman in World War II. Masterfully, Ambrose presented McGovern’s tour of duty in, “The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who flew the B-24s Over Germany.”
As I read of McGovern’s sacrifice and sincerity during the war years, I developed a respect for this man that has stayed with me. His courage was unparalleled as he flew 35 sorties. Few pilots survived such a feat. On one mission, McGovern flew his plane with over 100 holes in the fuselage and wings and a failed hydraulic system. The physical problems with the aircraft were complicated by an injured waist gunner, and a flight engineer who was so traumatized by the experience that he would subsequently be hospitalized with battle fatigue. Against these circumstances, McGovern managed to bring back the plane safely with the assistance of an improvised landing technique.
In the years after the war, McGovern entered politics in his native South Dakota. While I could never vote for George McGovern because I reject many of the planks of his political platform, I would acknowledge that he was a man with strong ideas and genuine compassion. I especially appreciated this anecdote coming later in his life as recorded by Stephen Ambrose:
George McGovern was lecturing in Austria at the University of Innsbruck. He was contacted by the director of Austrian television’s state-owned station requesting an interview with McGovern to talk about bombing Austrian targets.
Reluctantly he agreed. He was asked in the interview, “Senator, did you ever regret bombing beautiful cities like Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and others?”
He answered, “Well, nobody thinks that war is a lovely affair. It is humanity at its worst, it’s a breakdown of normal communication, and it is a savage enterprise. But on the other hand there are issues that sometimes must be decided by warfare after all else fails… I thought Adolf Hitler was a madman who had to be stopped. So, my answer to your question is no, I don’t regret bombing strategic targets in Austria. I do regret the damage that was done to innocent people. And there was one bomb I’ve regretted all these years.’”
The reporter snapped that up. “Tell us about it.”
McGovern told her about the bomb that had stuck in the bomb bay door and had to be jettisoned, on March 14, 1945. “To my sorrow it hit a peaceful little Austrian farmyard at high noon and maybe led to the death of some people in that family. I regret that all the more because it was the day I learned my wife had given birth to our first child and the thought went through my mind then and on many, many days since then, that we brought a young baby into the world and probably killed someone else’s baby or children.
When the documentary appeared on Austrian TV, the station received a call from an Austrian farmer. He said he had seen and heard McGovern. He knew it was his farm that was hit, because it was high noon on a clear day and exactly as McGovern described the incident.
“I want to tell him” the man said, “that no matter what other Austrians think, I despised Adolf Hitler. We did see the bomber coming. I got my wife and children out of the house and we hid in a ditch and no one was hurt. And because of our attitude about Hitler, I thought at the time that if bombing our farm reduced the length of that war by one hour or one minute, it was well worth it.”
When McGovern heard, he said it was “an enormous release and gratification. It seemed to just wipe clean a slate.”
Reflecting on his death today, I am grateful for his sacrificial service to our country in a great time of need. My prayers are offered for his family and friends as they mourn his death. I hope that Mr. McGovern knew the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who through his sacrificial death and resurrection gives to all who call upon him a clean slate, forgiveness of sin, right standing with God, and a future and a hope.