Zwicker, Ralph Wise

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Zwicker, Ralph Wise

(b. 17 April 1903 in Stoughton, Wisconsin; d. 9 August 1991 in Fort Belvoir, Virginia), army general who was a prominent figure in the 1954 controversy between the U.S. Army and Senator Joseph McCarthy, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations.

Zwicker was the youngest of three children of Henry Zwicker, owner of a cigar company, and Jean Wise, a homemaker. He graduated from Madison High School in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1921 and then attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison for a year. In 1923 he was appointed to the U.S, Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated in 1927 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry. On 14 July 1927 he married Dorothy Harriet Stewart; they had three children.

Until World War II, Zwicker had a conventional military career while rising to the rank of major. He served with the Third Infantry Regiment at Fort Snelling, Minnesota (1927-1930 and 1933-1934); with the Thirty-fifth Infantry Regiment and later the Eleventh Tank Company in Hawaii (1930–1932); as a student at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia (1932–1933); as an instructor in drawing at West Point (1934-1939); with the Thirty-eighth Infantry Regiment at posts in Utah and Texas (1939-1940); and as an instructor at the Infantry School (1940–1942).

During World War II, Zwicker compiled a record as an outstanding combat leader and staff officer. After completing the staff officer’s course at the Command and General

Staff College at Fort Leaven worth, Kansas, in June 1942, he was appointed operations officer for the Ninety-fourth Division, then organizing at Camp Phillips, Kansas. In November 1943 Zwicker was attached to the Army Ground Forces (AGF) and on 6 June 1944, while serving as an AGF observer, he led a reconnaissance mission at Omaha Beach several hours before American forces landed there as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. On 23 June 1944 Zwicker, holding the rank of colonel, became commander of the Thirty-eighth Infantry Regiment, part of the Second Division, and over the following weeks he led it through heavy fighting in the Normandy campaign. Later that year he was appointed the division’s chief of staff, serving in this capacity during the Ardennes and Rhineland campaigns.

After the war Zwicker had a variety of assignments. He attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, from July 1945 to December 1945 and, following a brief stint with the AGF, he was a student at the National War College in Washington, D.C. Between 1947 and 1953 he served with the operations and training division of the Army General Staff, as the deputy director of operations and training with the European Command, as the commander of the Eighteenth Infantry Regiment in Germany, as an instructor at the National War College, and as assistant commander of the Fifth Division at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, which earned him promotion to brigadier general.

In July 1953 Zwicker was appointed commander at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. The next year he was catapulted to national attention when Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose committee was looking into allegations of communist penetration of the army, decided to use the case of Captain Irving Peress to demonstrate that the army could not be trusted to weed out subversives. Peress, a dentist at Camp Kilmer and a suspected communist, had been promoted to major in the fall of 1953 and then given an honorable discharge on 2 February 1954. On 30 January, just days before, he had declined on constitutional grounds to answer questions about his alleged communist past in an appearance before McCarthy’s committee. This circumstance led McCarthy to ask why this “Fifth Amendment communist” had been promoted and not court-martialed “for conduct unbecoming an officer.”

General Zwicker, who shared McCarthy’s concern about communist subversion and was also angry over the army’s handling of the case, appeared before McCarthy’s committee on 18 February to answer questions about Peress. McCarthy expected Zwicker to be a cooperative witness, but citing orders from the Department of the Army that he not testify about specific security cases, Zwicker was evasive and argumentative. As the hearing proceeded, McCarthy, believing that Zwicker had something to hide, increasingly badgered him, implied that he was shielding communist conspirators, and ultimately pronounced him unfit to wear a soldier’s uniform.

This treatment of a distinguished soldier triggered a rebellion against McCarthy. Since 1950, McCarthy had been a powerful and destructive force in Washington with reckless charges about communist influence in the government and the military and, until Zwicker’s appearance, few had been willing to challenge him. Now army officials, furious with McCarthy’s virulence toward a highly decorated combat veteran, demanded that he never again insult an officer called to testify before his committee. President Dwight D. Eisenhower publicly praised General Zwicker for his courage and patriotism. Many newspapers and even McCarthy allies judged that the senator had gone too far in his tongue-lashing of Zwicker. Support for McCarthy waned, and after the famous televised Army-McCarthy hearings he was censured by the Senate in December 1954 for his abusive tactics, effectively ending his career.

In the meantime, Zwicker was transferred to Japan, where he became the commanding general of Southwestern Command, Armed Forces Far East, Japan, and later the assistant chief of staff for personnel for Armed Forces Far East, Japan, and the Eighth Army. Zwicker again clashed with McCarthy in March 1955 when Zwicker testified in a renewed probe of the Peress case by the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, now chaired by John Mc-Clellan. Nothing came of the investigation, but McClellan believed Zwicker had lied on the stand and asked the Department of Justice to review his testimony for possible prosecution for perjury. In the spring of 1957 it concluded there were no grounds for prosecution and shortly afterward Zwicker, whose elevation to higher rank had been delayed by the affair, was promoted to major general.

Afterward Zwicker commanded the Twenty-fourth Division, later redesignated the First Cavalry Division in Korea, and the Twentieth Corps (Reserve), headquartered at Fort Hayes, Ohio. He retired on 1 May 1960 after suffering two heart attacks and for the next ten years was employed by the Research Analysis Corporation in McLean, Virginia, a military consulting firm. Zwicker died of heart failure and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

A tall, trim man with a wide circle of friends, Zwicker was an able professional soldier who is remembered for his involvement in the Army-McCarthy feud.

A small collection of Zwicker’s papers is located in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in Madison. Extensive discussions of Zwicker’s role in the Army-McCarthy controversy can be found in Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (1982) and David M. Oshinsky, A Conspiracy So Immense:The World of Joe McCarthy (1983). A number of magazine articles in 1954 touch on Zwicker’s role in the controversy. Among the most important are “One Man’s Army,” Time (1 Mar. 1954); “What Hearing Revealed–McCarthy Questions a General,” U.S. News and World Report (5 Mar. 1954); “McCarthy and Stevens– Behind Scenes,” News week (8 Mar. 1954); and “McCarthy ‘Censure’ Case: The Evidence is in–Verdict Yet to Come,” U.S. News and World Report (24 Sept. 1954). Obituaries are in the Washington Post (11 Aug. 1991), New York Times (12 Aug. 1991), and the Assembly (July 1992).

John Kennedy Ohl