Former U.S. Senator George McGovern, the South Dakota native son and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, died on Sunday at the age of 90 following a long illness. In the wake of the anti-Vietnam war movement, McGovern made a name for himself as a staunch anti-war candidate. Despite strong national sentiment against the war, McGovern lost to the incumbent, Richard Nixon, in a historic landslide.
Despite his image as a dove, McGovern was a bomber pilot during World War II, though he didn’t talk much about it during his public life or during the 1972 campaign.
During his basic training in small towns in Texas and Kansas, McGovern learned to fly in BT-13s, AT-7 twin trainers before eventually getting checked out in the B-24, the airplane in which he would eventually fly 35 missions over Europe. His tour of duty culminated in a dramatic last mission in which his Liberator took more than 100 rounds but safely made it home, a feat for which McGovern was awarded the Air Star.
During the 1972 election, McGovern played down his military service, but he remained a supporter of aviation throughout his life, including being an advocate of general aviation throughout his legislative career in the House and Senate. McGovern’s World War II flying exploits were the focus of Stephen Ambrose’s 2001 book, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944–45.