Milo Radulovich: Nemesis of McCarthyism

Milo John Radulovich, serviceman and meteorologist: born Detroit, Michigan 28 October 1926; married first Nancy Tuttle (three daughters; marriage dissolved), second Sheila Day (deceased); died Vallejo, California 19 November 2007.

If any one person started the demise of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his infamous anti-Communist witch-hunts, it was a humble US Air Force reservist called Milo Radulovich – with, it should be said, not a little help from CBS News and its legendary reporter Ed Murrow.

Radulovich, the son of a Serbian immigrant car worker, had spent eight years on active duty before switching to the reserve in 1952. The following summer, when he was a student at the University of Michigan, two Air Force officers appeared at his door and gave him a letter. Opening it, the 26-year-old found he had been discharged, on the grounds he was a risk to national security.

The authorities had nothing against him. The reason cited was his "close and continuing association with his father and sister." The former's offence was to subscribe to Serbian-language papers that supported Tito, Yugoslavia's Communist leader. His sister had been blacklisted because she had joined a demonstration outside a Detroit hotel that had refused a room to the singer and civil-rights activist Paul Robeson.

Radulovich resolved to fight back. The Detroit News ran two articles about the case – the second of which was read by Ed Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, who were already planning a programme about McCarthy.

Friendly quickly realised Radulovich was "the perfect little picture" to illustrate McCarthyism's excesses. Though CBS was reluctant to run the story – Murrow's programme See It Now was sponsored by Alcoa, heavily reliant on military contracts – he and Friendly put up their own money to take out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to promote it. Entitled "The Case Against Lt Milo Radulovich", the programme aired in October 1953.

Viewer response was overwhelmingly in favour of Radulovich, and inside a month the Pentagon had reinstated him. It was, Friendly later noted, "the first time any of us realised the power of television." See It Now went on to run two more programmes taking on McCarthy directly. In December 1954, he was censured by the Senate. By May 1957 McCarthy was dead.

His honour restored, Radulovich became a meteorologist with the US National Weather Service, and an expert on wind distortions caused by forest fires, known still as the "Milo Effect". His story was featured in the hit 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney and dealing with Murrow and Friendly's exposé of McCarthyism. Radulovich served as a consultant on the film, and featured in original footage from the time.

Rupert Cornwell