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Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003 10:00 pm

Seated in a living room cluttered with books, papers and old photos, Milo Radulovich turns on his VCR and there he appears in black and white, 50 years younger, with the same cleft chin, thick neck and firm, proud voice.

"I'm an old man now," says the retired meteorologist, who these days lives an unassuming life in Lodi. "Fifty years is a long time."

As his eyes focus on the recording of the now-legendary CBS broadcast, he reacts with a mixture of pride and dismay -- and a touch of anger.

In 1953, Radulovich was a 27-year-old college student and father of two who helped topple one of the nation's most notorious bullies. He stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy and changed American history.

It was a major victory for himself and many others, but he says the "red scare" caused his father to die a brokenhearted man.

Radulovich says the recent release of 4,000 pages of closed-door testimony taken by McCarthy has stirred memories of that pivotal time and reaffirmed his belief that the Wisconsin senator was a mean-spirited opportunist. According to news reports, the newly released transcripts show that McCarthy, through the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations, used the closed sessions to select the most vulnerable witnesses to appear in public hearings, where he could grill them in his dramatic, rabble-rousing fashion.

Radulovich's case never went that far. After he received notice that he would be thrown out of the Air Force because of supposed family ties to communism, the case made the front page of The Detroit News.

But that was only the beginning. His appearance before a national audience on the CBS news show "See It Now," starring Edward R. Murrow, raised the first questions about McCarthy's witch-hunt tactics. The episode is considered by many to be the force that turned public opinion against the crusading senator.

"The case against Milo Radulovich underscored that the hunt for witches had gone too far," Fred Friendly, former CBS News president, wrote in the foreword to Michael Ranville's 1997 book, "To Strike at a King: The Turning Point in the McCarthy Witch-Hunts."

These days, the cheerful and outgoing Radulovich rarely brings up that pivotal time in his life, though he enjoys recounting the events when asked.

"I am uneasy about self-praise, but I am proud I responded as a patriot to an unjust attack," he said. "If anyone was un-American it was Joseph McCarthy. He did what the communists would have loved to do - he demoralized an entire nation."

Today, Radulovich lives in a new Lodi house at the edge of Woodbridge. Driven here in early 2000 by rising apartment rents in the Sacramento Capitol Towers, the 76-year-old now enjoys eating out.

"I know every restaurant in town," he joked, adding that he patronizes Tillie's in downtown Lodi on a near-daily basis.

In the early 1950s, buoyed by the Cold War and a near-hysterical fear of communism, McCarthy derailed careers and ruined lives in his campaign to root out Americans with questionable loyalties.

One day in September 1953 that witch hunt collided with a modest man working three jobs while attending the University of Michigan. Radulovich had served in the Army Air Force then the Air Force when it was formed in 1947 as a meteorologist from 1944 to 1952 and was on reserve status while a student.

Without warning, Radulovich received a special delivery letter saying he would be discharged from the Air Force because of his sister and father, who had marginal ties to communist publications and activities.

"What the hell is this? Am I reading this correctly?" Radulovich recalls thinking.

He says he was given three options. He could resign immediately and avoid controversy, he could write a letter to the Air Force telling his side of the story, or he could request a military tribunal.

Radulovich decided to fight. He wanted to protect his future. And he wanted to clear his family's name. All he had to do was find someone willing to take his case.

"In those days, if you got kicked out of the United States military as a security risk, that was the end of the road - you might get a job as a janitor," he said.

At the time, no one had stood up to the fiery McCarthy, who was masterful at browbeating those suspected of having even the most remote ties to communism. Several of the lawyers Radulovich asked to take the case flatly refused.

"I'm not going to plead for a suspected Red," he said one lawyer told him. "I'm not going to lose my career - no way."

He eventually hired Charles C. Lockwood, who took the case for free. Kenneth Sanborn, a young lawyer who served in the Air Force with Radulovich, also volunteered to work on the case.

"He was a wonderful fellow and very patriotic," said Sanborn, now a retired judge living near Detroit. "I knew the Air Force was making a horrible mistake when it said he was a security risk."

Once Radulovich appeared on "See it Now," the rest of the country apparently felt the same way. CBS was overwhelmed with calls. McCarthy, callers said, had gone too far. Soon the senator would be felled altogether, his bullying all but diminished, his name attached to an "-ism" synonymous with the worst kind of witch-hunt tactics.

Within days, Air Force Secretary Harold E. Talbott exonerated Radulovich and cleared his father, John, a proud Serbian immigrant, of any suspicion.

A year later, John Radulovich was dead. If his son has any anger about his encounter with the "Red Scare," it is how the ordeal hurt his father.

"The primary cause was lung cancer, but I really think he died of a broken heart," Radulovich said. "All of his friends dropped him because they didn't want to associate with him."

Life moved on for Milo Radulovich. He never graduated from the University of Michigan, but he enjoyed a successful career in meteorology, eventually retiring with the National Weather Service in 1994. His name often appeared in weather stories in The Sacramento Bee, discussing an arctic cold front, the latest drought or the ins and outs of El Nino.

These days, he enjoys going to his favorite local diner, where he sits in a booth and calls all the waitresses by name. He talks about wanting to lose 20 pounds and makes jokes about how old he is, how most of his life is over. He has lived alone since the death of his wife in the early 1990s.

Radulovich is happy with his choice to move away from the hustle and bustle of Sacramento and into Lodi, a city he chose because he had friends who lived here. Two of his three daughters live less than an hour away.

"I think it's a great town," he added.

He is especially impressed with the renovations of Hutchins Street Square and downtown Lodi.

While the former meteorologist is heavily involved with the Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson, he makes regular trips to Berkeley and downtown Stockton to watch art films and attends Monday night Bible study in Lodi.

On Monday, Radulovich was asked to speak to a government class at Lodi High School. It will be a first for him.

Back in his living room in Lodi, the old Milo Radulovich is watching himself as a young man on the TV. It's the same voice, only higher. The same face, only smoother.

"It's weird," he says, smiling and tapping the top of his head as the show comes to a close. "I had hair then."

News-Sentinel staff writer Jennifer Pearson Bonnett contributed to this report.


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