Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade had reached a fever pitch in 1954 when Irving Peress, a New York dentist who had been drafted into the Army, became the beneficiary of a seemingly routine promotion from captain to major.
McCarthy contended that Dr. Peress’s promotion had been directed by a “silent master who decreed special treatment for Communists.” Dr. Peress, he said, represented “the key to the deliberate Communist infiltration of our armed forces.” McCarthy called him a “Fifth Amendment Communist.”
McCarthy, as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Operations, accused the Army of coddling Dr. Peress. He said it had promoted him despite questions about his loyalty; had acceded to his request not to be assigned to Japan; and had allowed him to be honorably discharged despite McCarthy’s demand that he be court-martialed.
In fact, Dr. Peress’s promotion to major, along with hundreds of others, was considered largely automatic under legislation passed by Congress, and the change in assignment, forwarded by the Red Cross, was granted because his wife and young daughter were ill. As for the honorable discharge, the Army argued that invoking the Fifth Amendment was not sufficient grounds for military prosecution.
The senator’s bluster during the hearings, his denunciation of Brig. Gen. Ralph W. Zwicker as “unfit” to wear his uniform, and his pressuring the Army for preferential treatment for G. David Schine, a draftee who was an associate of the McCarthy counsel Roy Cohn, finally prompted a showdown with the White House and, later that year, McCarthy’s censure by the Senate.
This, of course, lead to this:
After the hearings, the Peress home in Queens was stoned. Not only did Elaine Peress become a target by association, pressured to step down as editor of the P.T.A. bulletin, but someone called leaders of the Brownie pack that one of their daughters belonged to and warned them to be wary of possible subversion.
Among the awards he received were, 2 Silver Stars, 2 Legion of Merit, 3 Bronze Star Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal as well as the Distinguished Service Order from the United Kingdom, Croix de Guerre with 3 palms from France, The Legion of Honor France and was also Awarded medals from Czechoslovakia and Russia.
This turned out to be the beginning of the end for McCarthy.