An obituary in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Post about Robert T. Stevens, 83, the secretary of the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, incorrectly reported the day of his death. Mr. Stevens died Sunday.
Robert T. Stevens, 83, a former secretary of the Army whose drama-filled appearances before Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in 1954 were an important step toward ending the Communist-baiting prominence of the Wisconsin Republican, died of a heart ailment yesterday at his home in Edison, N.J.
Mr. Stevens was a former president and chairman of the board of J.P. Stevens & Co. Inc., a major textile manufacturer founded by his father. He was born in Fanwood, N.J., and educated at Yale University. He served in the Army in World War II, rising from second lieutenant in the field artillery to colonel.
A lifelong Republican, he was named secretary of the Army by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He took office in 1953 and remained until 1955, when he returned to the Stevens company.
When Mr. Stevens came to Washington, McCarthy was at the height of his power as the embodiment of an undifferentiating and unbounded anticommunism. By the time Mr. Stevens returned to New Jersey, McCarthy had been censured by the Senate and no longer posed what his critics regarded as a threat to constitutional protections in the country.
Mr. Stevens' role in this affair came about because of his duty to defend Army officers from what the administration saw as slanderous attacks from McCarthy, who was chairman of the permanent investigations subcommittee of the Senate Government Operations Committee. The senator used the committee to investigate alleged security leaks at Fort Monmouth and Camp Kilmer, both in New Jersey. At Camp Kilmer, he questioned the patriotism and competence of Brig. Gen. Ralph W. Zwicker.
The Eisenhower administration came to the aid of the Army. As a result of an arrangement worked out between Mr. Stevens and McCarthy, hearings continued under the chairmanship of Sen. Karl Mundt (R-S.D.). Mr. Stevens was the chief witness. McCarthy was the chief inquisitor. Other roles were played by Roy Cohn, McCarthy's aide; Robert F. Kennedy, counsel to the Democratic minority of the committee, and Joseph N. Welch, a Boston lawyer who was brought in as special counsel for the Army.
Playing a powerful and watchful role was television. The ABC and Dumont networks decided on live coverage from start to finish. This provided the country with its first prolonged look at McCarthy in action, in hearings that lasted from April 22 to June 17, 1954.
The charges investigated by the subcommittee involved security issues raised by McCarthy. The story also involved the promotion of Maj. Irving Peress, an Army dentist who invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked if he had ever been a Communist.
Also involved were alleged failure to safeguard classified information at Fort Monmouth, where it transpired that some information concerning communications equipment may have been furnished the Soviets as part of Lend-Lease aid during World War II, and the loyalty of Gen. Zwicker, under whose overall command Peress served.
At one point, McCarthy tried to hector Welch, the Army special counsel, with evidence that one of his assistants had been associated with the National Lawyers Guild, which defended persons accused of being Communists. Welch replied with a memorable chastising in which he rhetorically asked the senator, "Have you no decency, sir?"
Even before the end of the hearings, McCarthy, who had always been so confident in public, tried to terminate them. By the end of the year, the Senate had levied its vote of censure against him.
After his return to New Jersey, Mr. Stevens remained active in his textile firm until 1974, when he was made a director emeritus.
Survivors include his wife, Dorothy, of Edison; four sons, Robert T. Jr., of Bozeman, Mont., Whitney, of New York City, William G., of Edison, and Thomas E., of Nashville, Tenn.; eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.