Doing the Right Thing


I have read and studied a lot of history in my life, and lived through some, so I know many stories of heroes. The Greeks at Thermopylae, the Jews at Masada. Frederick Douglass and Medgar Evers and those who defied Nazi tyranny even when they knew it would cost their lives.

I admire all those men and women, and many more. But I think the truest heroes are those who live with adversity every day. Parenting isn’t easy in the best of times, and that’s probably a huge understatement. But being the parent of an autistic child is something else again.

One of my biggest heroes is a single father who is the parent of a 22-year-old severely autistic son. He runs a small but demanding business and for years has been a major player in a cause of great economic importance to this region, our nation and Canada.

But perhaps his biggest and most time-consuming job is caring for his son, who may never be able to live on his own. My friend is one of the nicest and most cheerful people I have ever met; I am, frankly, in awe of him. I don’t think I could ever do what he does.

By the way, he doesn’t seem to be the least bit impressed with himself, or feel that he is any kind of a martyr or a victim — which may just be the most impressive thing of all.

Ken Sanborn didn’t have the cross of an autistic child to bear, but he did something that could have ruined his career almost before it got started. During the worst of the red scare, he stood up for a young veteran named Milo Radulovich who was being drummed out of the U.S. Air Force because it was felt he was a “security risk” because of his relatives.

Nobody asked Sanborn who was himself an air force officer and a young lawyer Radulovich’s age to get involved. It would have been extremely easy to avoid getting mixed up in a case that seemed more likely to destroy Sanborn’s budding reputation than enhance it.

But as he told Mike Ranville many years later, he couldn’t stand by and watch what he correctly felt was a horrendous miscarriage of justice. So Ken picked up the phone and called Milo and offered to help defend him for free. Why? He just said, “It seemed like the right thing to do.” What he did could have ruined both his legal and military careers.

There was tough going for a while. But both men endured, though their lives were scarred. In the end, Radulovich was vindicated, and was allowed to remain in the service – though the pressure caused him to fail to finish his degree and may have ruined his marriage.

But when Edward R. Murrow exposed the injustice of the proceedings against Milo on his CBS TV program See It Now, it sowed seeds of doubt that led, the next year, to the fall of the demagogue Joe McCarthy and the beginning of the end of the Red Scare hysteria.

Years later, Milo said simply that “Ken Sanborn deserved a medal.” I think both men ought to have gotten the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Today, when I look at the news and watch how undocumented immigrants and their families are being treated, I have to wonder where in the Republican Party is the Ken Sanborn of today. We certainly need more than one, maybe more now than during the Red Scare.

Ordinary heroes keep our society going. We could use a lot more.