S. Dakota bids farewell to former Sen. McGovern

Topics: From the Wires,

S. Dakota bids farewell to former Sen. McGovernVice President Joe Biden speaks at a prayer service for former Democratic U.S. senator and three-time presidential candidate George McGovern at the First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, S.D., Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. McGovern died Sunday in his native South Dakota at age 90. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)(Credit: AP)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Hundreds of family, friends and fans have started streaming into a Sioux Falls arts center for the final send-off of U.S. Sen. George McGovern, whose historic but futile 1972 presidential campaign galvanized the Democratic Party.

As the doors opened at 11 a.m. and McGovern’s flag-draped casket arrived at the Washington Pavilion, the 1,800 seats of the Mary Sommervold Hall began to fill for the afternoon service.

McGovern died Sunday at a Sioux Falls hospice surrounded by his family. He was 90.

At a prayer service Thursday night, Vice President Joe Biden hailed McGovern as “the father of the modern Democratic Party.” Without his resolve, Biden said, the country would have remained mired in the Vietnam War for longer and “so much more blood and so much more treasure would have been wasted.”

“The war would never have ended when it did. It would never have ended when it did,” Biden said, his voice rising as he turned his body toward McGovern’s daughters. “Your father gave courage to people who didn’t have the courage to speak up to finally stand up. Your father stood there and took all of that beating.”

Speakers Friday include former U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle and Gary Hart. Hart had served as campaign manager in McGovern’s 1972 presidential loss to President Richard Nixon, who won in a historic landslide.

On Thursday, speaker after speaker said McGovern never wavered from his guiding principles, even though he knew it would likely cost him the election.

“When I think of George, I think of a man of uncompromising integrity,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson.

The ceremony featured heartfelt tributes by McGovern family members, longtime friends and political loyalists. The crowd of hundreds sat hushed as snippets of McGovern’s acceptance speech from the 1972 Democratic National Convention crackled on a church loudspeaker. “We are entering a new period of important and hopeful change in America,” came the echo from the past.

McGovern’s 1972 candidacy centered around his pledge to pull America out of Vietnam, telling those who would listen that his “heart has ached” over the war. “I have no secret plan for peace,” he said in his Democratic National Convention speech accepting the party nomination. “I have a public plan.”

It was a plan he never had a chance to execute. He lost that year to Nixon, who won all but one state. South Dakota even went Nixon’s way.

Soon after the election, Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal.

McGovern’s political career would effectively end eight years later, when he was defeated in a Senate re-election campaign. He waged a 1984 bid for president but was regarded a longshot from the outset.

But McGovern didn’t fade from a sense of service. He rededicated himself to a lifelong passion to fight world hunger. McGovern, once a global ambassador in the campaign to feed needy children, continued that cause well into his 80s. In 2008, he was awarded the World Food Prize along with former Republican Sen. Bob Dole, who had also faced defeat in a presidential race.

Former state lawmaker Sandy Jerstad of Sioux Falls worked on McGovern’s 1972 campaign but grew closer in recent years. They would talk over meals, including one in which he remarked on his life’s unfinished business.

“God’s got to give me at least three more years,” Jerstad said McGovern told her. “I’ve got to finish my project to get food to all the schoolchildren in the world.”

Jerstad visited McGovern days before he died Sunday and she told him people around the world love him.

McGovern is to be buried at a later date at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington.


Associated Press writer Kristi Eaton contributed.

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