I certainly do not want to make light of the terror of the 1950s that has vcome to be represented by the late Senator McCarthy. My family had, I was later to learn, many reasons to fear the forces that he represented but that isn't what this story is about. You see, I am probably the only person who has written in to this thread who actually took part in the Army-McCarthy hearings in the Senate Caucus Room of the old Senate Building in Washington.
I was a student in junior high school in Western Massachusetts and there was an essay contest. I chose the government of my home state, New Hampshire, for my topic and amazingly, I won! The prize was a trip to Washington, DC which was fascinating. I got to visit the FBI crime lab, the White House, my Congressman and I even got to spend a couple of nights as a house guest of a senior official in he State Department. He told me something at that time that was to prove prophetic. He explained to me that Communism was not monolithic and that the Soviet Union and China were never going to be able to make it as long-term allies. This was headys tuff, not generally accepted b the government polcy makers. If it had been, we might have saved ourselves a lot of battle deaths around the Far East.
Anyway, when it came time for me to make my visit to the Army-McCarthy hearings which were the biggest news event in town, I was given a ticket and found that I was expected to stand in a line that snaked out of the big hearing room doors, around the rotunda and down the stairs. There were twenty or so public seats in the hearing room and as people got bored and gave up there seat, the Capitol guards would let an equal number of people in. The line was moving very slowly. I didn't want to wait.
I realized that I had an advantage that the others standing in line did not. I had a Speed Graphic camera. It had been given to me to use by my high school for photos to be run in the school newspaper when I wrote up the report of my trip to Washington.. For those of you who don't know what a Speed Grafic is, I should mention that the Speed Graphic was the prototypical press camera, a 4x5 inch plate camera, the sort carried by Jimmie Olsen in the Superman series. It was not an amateur camera and in the setting of the major news event of the time, it made me look very professional.
Although I was only fifteen years old, was was six foot two and was often mistaken for being considerably older than my natural years. That's what gave me the nerve to go to the front of the line and to watch how the press was treated. Of course, they didn't have to wait in line for hours.
I struck up a quick conversation with a man who I later found out was from the NY Times. Everone seemed to know him by name and liked him so I kept talking as we walked through the door. It was a simpler, more trusting time, the Kennedys had not yet been shot, there had yet to be attacks on Reagan or Ford. Security was not of the tightness we have grown to take for granted today and I walked right into the room.
All arond me, there was a flurry of activity. It must have been the end of the luncheon break.
I recognized David Schine, and Welch, the lawyer from Boston and of course, Senator McCarthy hmself. There were a lot of Army brass there, too. It seemed as though everyone there had something to do. I tried to make myself blend in by taking sopme photos but I really hadn't mastered the intricacies of the Speed Grasphic with its dark slide and negative slides sug a ground glass viewfinder with an upside-down image. It didn't take long before I was spotted but not before I had backed into David Schine who reacted angrily to the unexpected collssion witha mere news photographer.
I have no idea how long I was allowed to roam through the Senate Caucus Room but it was probably only for a couple of minutes. A Secret Service operative asked me for identification which I didn't have and he took me to the door. When he asked me why I had done it, I explained that I had won a trip to Washington for my essay on the government of New Hampshire and that I hadn't wanted to spend several hours of my limited time in Washington, standing in the corridors of power. He must have been struck by my earnestness because he brought me over to a group of empty seats that had been reserved for a US Senator whose party had not yet shown up. I could stay there as long as I wanted or until the Senator's part arrived. They never showed up and I had front row seats.
I really liked the idea of getting in to events without standing in line. That and my natural curiousity led, ten years later, to my having press credentials, real ones, in Washington.