It has been said that timing is everything in life; well timing certainly played a part in today’s article. When I think of World War II – which I consider the most significant event of the 20th century – the day that comes to my mind is June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. For most Americans it is December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day. I prefer to remember the day that spelled the beginning of the end for the Axis powers to the day that caused America’s entry into the war. Monday New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg died. He was the last veteran of World War II still serving in the Senate. Therefore, for the first time in my lifetime no veteran of the war won by America’s greatest generation is in the Senate on the anniversary of D-Day. That is but a small part of the Lautenberg legacy for which today we enshrine him in the Progressive Hall of Fame. Frank Lautenberg lived the American dream, facilitated by one of the great progressive programs of the 20th century while never forgetting where he came from and spending much of his life giving back to the country he served and loved.
Lautenberg enlisted in the Army at the age of 18. He served in the Army Signal Corps from 1942 to 1946. He earned a B.S. in Economics from Columbia with the aid of the G.I. Bill. He then started a business with two childhood friends from the neighborhood. Initially he was the salesman. By 1952 he was the C.E.O. and stayed in that post for thirty years. The company’s name was Automatic Data Processing, Inc. and it enabled Lautenberg to become a wealthy man. He could have easily retired young and led a life of greed and leisure. Instead he entered the United States Senate where he worked for progressive causes that helped his fellow Americans.
Lautenberg is most famous for being the Senator who led the effort to stop smoking on commercial airliners. His achievements and endeavors where not limited to that single feat. He also worked on banning smoking in public places, instituting airline safety regulations, and helping AIDS patients. He was an advocate for AMTRAK, the New Jersey Transit, gun regulation, a woman’s right to choose, stem cell research, along with G.I. and veterans’ rights. He favored same-sex civil marriage, banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and taking guns away from domestic abusers.
He was against the N.A.F.T.A. and C.A.F.T.A. free trade agreements, the Iraq War, industrial polluters and special tax breaks for big oil corporations.
That record from a fifty year old would be admirable; from nearly a ninety year old it is nothing short of astounding. I am a generation younger than him and sadly admit I would not have had the foresight and wisdom to have cast some of the votes he cast at the time he did.
Frank Lautenberg’s life is one where the sum is greater than the parts. Much like Ted Kennedy, the fact that he so often voted against his financial self-interest is what makes his actions so admirable! I don’t know what I respect more; that he parlayed one government program and made himself into a wealthy man or that he never forgot where he came from and the others who would not be as fortunate. I guess I’ll just respect them both.
Frank Lautenberg: an only in America success story and the last of the generation that won the war that made today’s America possible; take your deserved place among the greats.
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