SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Milo Radulovich, who in 1953 stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist browbeating in a showdown that led to the demise of McCarthyism, died Monday at age 81. He had struggled with his health since suffering a stroke in June.
Though his case was a sensation 50 years ago, trumpeted on Edward R. Murrow’s TV show “See It Now” and the inspiration for the 2005 movie “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Radulovich for decades enjoyed an energetic but low-key career as a Sacramento-area meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He often was quoted in The (Sacramento) Bee on anything from floods and cold fronts to the intricacies of El Nino. He also was Ronald Reagan’s favorite weather forecaster when Reagan was governor.
Until the last two years of his life, Radulovich rarely mentioned the scandal that rocked the nation at the height of the so-called Red Scare, though he was always gracious about answering questions when anyone broached the subject.
The movie turned him into a celebrity, a rejuvenated hero and a widely sought out speaker as critics of the Patriot Act drew contemporary parallels to the Radulovich ordeal.
“I am uneasy about self-praise, but I am proud I responded as a patriot to an unjust attack,” he said in a 2003 profile in The Bee. “If anyone was un-American, it was Joseph McCarthy. He did what the Communist would have loved to do – he demoralized an entire nation.”
In the early 1950s, buoyed by the Cold War and the near-hysterical fear of Communism, McCarthy derailed careers and ruined lives in his quest to root out Americans whose loyalties he questioned.
But he picked on the wrong man in 1953. Radulovich was a 27-year-old student at the University of Michigan and the father of two. He had served in the Air Force a decade earlier but was on reserve status while studying meteorology and holding down three jobs.
Out of the blue, he received a special delivery letter indicating he would be discharged from the Air Force because his sister and father had the loosest of ties to Communist publications.
Radulovich decided to fight, the first to take on the powerful McCarthy. The press noticed almost immediately. Not long after Murrow featured Radulovich on his current affairs broadcast, the national tide turned against McCarthy as millions decided he had gone too far. It was a David vs. Goliath political face-off.
“Milo by himself couldn’t have done much, but the media picked up on it,” said his brother, Sam Radulovich of Detroit.
“What happened to Milo points out what can happen when you let some of these federal regulations get out of hand,” said Kenneth Sanborn, one of the lawyers who defended Radulovich and is now a retired circuit court judge in Michigan. “Now we’re running into the same little problem with the Patriot Act.”
Radulovich won his case and cleared his father’s name, but he always insisted his father died broken-hearted, abandoned by most of his friends after he was identified as a likely Communist.
Radulovich moved on and was never bitter. Outgoing and cheerful, he retired in 1994 and lived in Lodi, Calif., where he enjoyed spending time with friends and was on a first-name basis with all the waitresses at his favorite diner.
In fact, Radulovich was better known as the local weather service spokesman and, in retirement, a bon vivant, than he was as the young man who stood up to McCarthy. That changed with “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Radulovich seemed to enjoy basking in the limelight and recounting his case.
“In the last couple of years, he was almost fulltime going to schools and journalism groups that asked him to speak,” said his brother Sam Radulovich, a retired electrical engineer in Detroit. “He got a lot of travel out of it, which he liked to a point, but I think he got tired of it.”
When Sanborn received a prestigious medal for courage and achievement, Radulovich surprised him by traveling to the Detroit area to present his former lawyer with the honor.
“It was quite an emotional moment for me,” Sanborn said.
In his years as at the National Weather Service, Radulovich was widely admired for his friendly demeanor. Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan would often call for a weather report and always asked to speak with Radulovich, according to Larry Ferral, a longtime co-worker.
“He was very articulate, a person who could really express himself well. He was the one who always spoke at retirement dinners—a really good extemporaneous speaker,” said Ferral.
In his final months, that gift was taken away. After suffering a powerful stroke in mid-June, Radulovich was unable to talk and affected the use of his right arm and leg. The illness forced him to move into nursing home.
He regained some ability to talk but after a few words would tail off. Loved ones believed the incoherent speech was the Serbian language he heard as an infant from his parent, who moved to the United States from Yugoslavia, his brother said.
Until his health woes, Radulovich had lived alone in Lodi since his second wife died in the early 1990s.
He is survived by three daughters, Danica Berner of Bishop; and Janet Sweeney and Kathy Radulovich, both of Sacramento; two brothers, Walter and Sam Radulovich, both of Detroit, and his sister Margaret Fishman, of Detroit. Funeral arrangements are pending.