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Personal responsibility is key

September 17, 2010
By Richard E. J. Burke, Shepherdstown

When I left the Marines 50 years ago, I didn't feel the government owed me a living. I'd been brought up by a father who felt responsible for his own well-being and that of my mother and two siblings. But he did view government having a role as a safety net during times of national crisis, which he equated to the Great Depression or something worse.

Before I left to enlist, I'd learned my father's history. He was born in Scobey, Mont., the first-born son of an Irish newspaper editor and his French wife. His mom died during the seventh childbirth, and his father remarried, and couldn't handle seven children. So he shipped out the oldest six to orphanages.

My father spent the next six years in an orphanage run by monks in Oregon, before his father called him back to Montana, the last to return home. When the Great Depression overshadowed the land, my father got himself a job as a "powder monkey," blowing up tree stumps with the Civilian Conservation Corps, and building Western dams.

Wanting to better himself, he rode freight trains from Montana to Washington, D.C., where he got a job as a night cop in the Capitol, working his way through George Washington University undergraduate and law schools. With his fresh law degree, a late-night working senator, Harry Truman, helped him get a job as assistant (district attorney) in Washington.

He married my mother, a registered nurse, the youngest of seven, and the only American-born child of a Slovakian coal miner. She had excelled in the little school in the company-owned town of Shoaf, Pa., - just outside Uniontown - and went to nursing school at Providence Hospital, financed by her night job as an elderly man's caretaker.

My mother continued to work until I was born, and then stayed home to raise three children until they reached high school, before returning to work as (a registered nurse). My father progressed through professor of law at GW, as an attorney with the Solicitor General, and finished his career as a tax prosecutor for the IRS. He also served as a public defender.

Both my parents were firmly committed to the Democratic Party, and never ceased to praise FDR for the New Deal and what they called "saving the nation from a collapse into communism." I've heard that elsewhere, but will never be sure what they meant. But they clearly taught me that they were self-reliant, while being advocates of big government.

My parents took great pleasure during the Kefauver hearings, while Sen. Joe McCarthy was being flayed publicly before television cameras. I never understood their emotions, for I'd watched hundreds of government employees refuse to answer ... House Un-American Activities Committee as to whether they were communist agents.

To their deaths, both remained loyal Democrats, despite increasing dismay as their party chased after other constituencies, buying their votes and making them dependent on government, and increasingly deserting my parents and their values. This grieved them.

 
 
 

 

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