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Compassionate Reassignment Pending

Irving Peress (July 31, 1917 – November 13, 2014) was a New York Citydentist who became a primary target for investigation of alleged communist leanings during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings.

Early life[edit]

Peress was born in the Bronx on July 31, 1917.[1] The son of a tailor, he was raised in Manhattan and attended George Washington High School.[1] He graduated from the City College of New York, where he was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps.[2] He graduated from the New York University College of Dentistry in 1940 and established a practice in New York City.[3] He became involved in politics after marrying Elaine Gittelson, an English teacher who became a therapist and psychiatric social worker.[2] In the 1940s, he indicated the American Labor Party (ALP) as the party choice on his voter registration form. (New York voter registration and elections include party enrollment and closed primaries.) As a liberal third party, the ALP was a frequent target of anti-Communists who viewed it as a Communist front.[4]

Military service[edit]

Peress applied for a commission as an Army dentist during World War II, but failed his physical because of a hernia and did not serve.[5]

Peress was maintaining a thriving practice by the early 1950s when doctors and dentists were being drafted for the Korean War. He gained weight in an effort to aggravate his high blood pressure, fail his physical, and avoid induction into the military.[2] After passing the physical, he applied for and received a commission as a captain in the Army Dental Corps.[6] He was inducted into the Army Reserve on October 5, 1952, and reported for active duty on January 3, 1953.[7]

Originally slated for assignment to Japan, Peress asked for and received a compassionate reassignment based on his wife's and daughter's illnesses.[2] He was reassigned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.[8]

As part of his application for his commission, Peress signed an oath indicating that he had never been a member of an organization that sought to overthrow the U.S. government by unconstitutional means.[9] When he later completed a more detailed questionnaire, Peress responded to queries about membership in the Communist party or affiliated organizations with the phrase "federal constitutional privilege", an allusion to the Fifth Amendment.[2] The chief dental surgeon at Camp Kilmer later testified that Peress had no access to sensitive information there and that he and his assistant had, at the request of the camp's intelligence officer, monitored Peress' activities without discovering anything at all suspicious.[10] Although this monitoring failed to uncover any wrongdoing by Peress, he still received fitness reports that called him a "very disloyal and untrustworthy type of officer" and stated that he was devoting himself to "the seeding of dissatisfaction".[7]

Target of McCarthy[edit]

In October 1953, Peress was promoted to Major, even though his commanding officer had recommended that Peress be separated from the military because of suspicions stemming from his questionnaire answers.[11] The Army later described it as a "readjustment in rank" made to comply with the Doctors' Draft Act, a recent law that required that the rank of military medical professionals reflect their level of experience.[10]

Soon after Peress was promoted, the Senate Government Operations Committee received an anonymous complaint stating that Peress had been promoted even though he was under surveillance for communist activities. As a result of the complaint and subsequent inquiries, Army leaders decided in January 1954 that an honorable discharge was the quickest way to remove Peress from the military and resolve the issue.[11]

Senator Joseph McCarthy, Chairman of the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, decided to hold hearings on Peress' promotion and pending discharge to illustrate McCarthy's claim that the Army was "soft on communism" because it tolerated an inefficient bureaucracy that failed to maintain security standards.[7]

Peress appeared before McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on January 30, 1954, and invoked the Fifth Amendment dozens of times in his testimony.[12] He said he had and would continue to oppose any group that sought a violent or unconstitutional overthrow of the U.S. government. McCarthy called Peress "the key to the deliberate Communist infiltration of our Armed Forces" and a "Fifth Amendment Communist."[2] Peress upbraided his questioners by saying that anyone, even a senator, who equated the invoking of the Fifth Amendment with guilt was himself guilty of subversion.[2]

McCarthy wrote a letter to Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens calling for Peress to be court-martialed.[12] He called for an investigation into the Army's handling of Peress' commissioning and promotion.[13] Stevens believed that Peress' refusals to answer the Committee's questions did not provide grounds for court-martial and approved Peress' discharge on February 2.[12]

On February 18, 1954, Brigadier GeneralRalph W. Zwicker, who had been in command at Camp Kilmer, was recalled from Japan to testify, and refused to say who had authorized Peress' promotion to Major or honorable discharge. McCarthy told Zwicker he was "not fit to wear that uniform."[14]

An FBI witness named Ruth Eagle, an undercover member of the New York City Police Department, testified on February 18, 1954, that Peress and his wife had been involved with the Communist party in the 1930s and 1940s and that Peress had been a leader of the American Labor Party.[15][16]

McCarthy said that Peress' promotion had been ordered by a "silent master who decreed special treatment for Communists".[1] During confrontational testimony interrupted by several shouting matches with McCarthy, Secretary of the Army Robert T. Stevens told the committee on March 24, 1955, that "some very bad mistakes" had allowed Peress' promotion.[12]

The Army granted Peress an honorable discharge on March 31, 1954.[2][7] In June 1954, the Army delivered the Subcommittee on Investigations a report on the Peress case that detailed those responsible for approving his promotion and discharge. It admitted to procedural "blunders" that had resulted in the rewriting of regulations to avoid similar cases and said those responsible had been disciplined.[17]

McCarthy, defending his pursuit of the Peress case when faced with censure, told a Senate committee that his own investigation contradicted Army witnesses and showed that Peress had been considered for "sensitive work" in May 1953.[18]

McCarthy's confrontational approach, coupled with his pressure on the Army for preferential treatment of committee staff member G. David Schine, was looked on in retrospect as the beginning of McCarthy's downfall, leading to the Senate's censure of McCarthy.[19][20][21]

Later events[edit]

Following the hearings, Peress reported receiving anti-Semitic hate mail and the Peress home in Queens was stoned in late February 1954. He commented:[22]

This comes from the self-styled 100 per cent loyal American, the super patriots, who, in the true tradition of the Storm Troopers of Hitler, crowned their efforts Saturday night with rocks thrown through the windows of my children's bedroom. This is the terror that stems from McCarthyism.

Peress was persuaded to remove his name from the door of his dental practice. His wife was pressured to resign as editor of the Parent-Teachers Association monthly bulletin at their local public school.[2]

In 1976, he reflected on his experience:[23]

I was really not such an important cog in anyone's wheel; I was something that got caught in the wheel.... Most people who come into my practice honestly never heard of the whole incident. It amazes me that people are so naive politically. Even when I meet dentists at meetings, there is hardly a recognition.

In an interview in 2005, he repeatedly declined to say whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Asked if he agreed with Communism, he replied:[2]

I'm far from a Marxist scholar, but from my skimming of Marx, it was always reasonable, appropriate: democratic control by people of their own destinies and in control of the means of production. It's so utopian and mythological it's hard to conceive. Who would be against it? And what the Soviet Union was on its way to was enough to convince me.

He said that if he had explained his political beliefs at the Army-McCarthy hearings:[2]

The next thing is, 'Name names'. That's the follow-up question. I have a constitutional right not to tell you. Even Oliver North took the Fifth Amendment. The common knowledge according to all of us who were involved was, if you answer one question, you give up your constitutional privileges.... It's an inappropriate question. I was a leader of the American Labor Party. We were red-baited. We're far freer than a lot of places, but speech is punishable. I would not face a committee today, there is not that jeopardy, but I have descendants. As long as there is a penalty, to take a principled position to protect the right of people to have their opinion not exposed, you do not expose your own.

Retirement and death[edit]

Peress maintained his dental practice until 1980 and retired in 1982. He was still residing in the New York City area when he gave an interview in 2005.[2]

Peress died at his home in Queens on November 13, 2014.[1] According to one of his sons, Peress had suffered complications and declining health after breaking a leg in a fall, but was determined to live long enough to watch Major League Baseball's 2014 World Series. Peress' son stated that afterwards, Peress intentionally stopped taking his thyroid medication.[24]


  1. ^ abcdSam, Roberts (November 17, 2014). "Dr. Irving Peress, Target of McCarthy Crusade, Dies at 97". New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ abcdefghijklRoberts, Sam (April 4, 2005). "The Dentist McCarthy Saw As a Threat To Security". New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  3. ^Army Personnel Actions Relating to Irving Peress
  4. ^Mark Hamilton Lytle, America's Uncivil Wars : The Sixties Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon (Oxford University Press), p. 21
  5. ^David M. Oshinsky, A Conspiracy so Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy (2005), p. 365
  6. ^Rorty, James; Decter, Moshe (1972). McCarthy and the Communists. p. 48. 
  7. ^ abcdArthur Herman, Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator (NY: The Free Press, 2000), pp. 247-8
  8. ^Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy: A Biography (1982), p. 537
  9. ^Scott Heidepriem, A Fair Chance for a Free People: A Biography of Karl E. Mundt (1988), p. 168
  10. ^ ab"A Superior Kept Watch on Peress". New York Times. March 19, 1955. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  11. ^ abBaker, Russell (March 12, 1955). "Senate Unit Maps Review of Peress". New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  12. ^ abcdBaker, Russell (March 25, 1954). "Stevens Grants Errors on Peress". New York Times. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  13. ^Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years:A Personal Account, volume 1: Mandate For Change 1953-1956 (1965), p. 322
  14. ^"M'Carthy Renews Zwicker Attack". New York Times. March 24, 1955. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  15. ^Haynes Johnson The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism (2006), p. 351
  16. ^Lawrence, David (March 1, 1954). "Today In Washington: Step-By-Step Recital Of Events Associated With Ouster Of Peress". Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal. p. 4. 
  17. ^"Clearance Denies 2 M'Carthy Aides". New York Times. July 1, 1954. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  18. ^"Excerpts from Transcript of Fifth Day of Senate Hearings on Censure of McCarthy". New York Times. September 9, 1954. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  19. ^Lawrence N. Stout, Covering McCarthyism: How the Christian Science Monitor Handled Joseph R. McCarthy (1999), p. 123
  20. ^Barry M. Goldwater, With No Apologies: The Personal and Political Memoirs of United States Senator Barry M. Goldwater (1979), p. 60
  21. ^Arthur V. Watkins, Enough Rope: the Inside Story of the Censure of Senator Joe McCarthy (1969), p. 21
  22. ^"Peress Says Hoodlums Stoned his Home; Blames Incident on 'McCarthy Terrorism'". New York Times. March 1, 1954. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  23. ^"Follow-Up on the News: Dr. Irving Peress". New York Times. September 5, 1976. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  24. ^"Irving Peress, dentist targeted during Red Scare, dies at 97". New York Daily News. November 18, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Military Humanitarian or Compassionate Assignments

Requesting Assignments for Extreme Family Problems

It's an unfortunate truth that sometimes during a military career, a member may experience a severe family hardship which requires his/her presence to resolve, with circumstances which make resolving it with emergency leave impractical.

To help military members in such situations, each of the services has developed a program which allows military members to be re-assigned, or temporarily deferred from assignment, if they have a severe family hardship which absolutely requires their presence to resolve.

The Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard call this program Humanitarian Assignments. The Army calls their program Compassionate Assignments.

Exceptional Family Member Program

While not a component of Humanitarian/Compassionate Assignments, the Exceptional Family Member Program or EFMP warrants special mention. EFMP was developed to make sure military family members (dependents) with special needs (medical, educational, etc.), receive the special attention they require. A small part of this program is integrated into the military assignments system.

When a military member has dependents (spouse, son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter, etc.) with special needs, they are enrolled in EFMP. If the member is selected for an accompanied assignment, one of the first things that happen is the EFMP folks at the losing base contact the EFMP folks at the projected gaining base to determine if the dependent's special needs can be adequately addressed at the new location.

If not, the assignment is canceled. This ensures that military dependents are not forced to move to locations where their special needs cannot be adequately addressed, either by the military installation or in the local community.

EFMP does not restrict a member from doing his/her share of unaccompanied assignments, however, so they can still deploy.

The program merely makes sure that members aren't selected for an accompanied assignment to areas where their dependents would not get the special attention they require.

Humanitarian/Compassionate Reassignments

A Humanitarian Assignment is a special assignment authorized to alleviate a hardship so severe an emergency leave cannot fully resolve it. While each of the services has different procedures, there are some requirements which are common to all the branches.

To qualify for a Humanitarian Assignment consideration, a military member must have a documented and substantiated problem involving a family member, which is significantly more severe than other military members experience. "Family Member" is generally defined as spouse, child, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, person in loco parentis or other persons residing in the household who are dependent for over half of their financial support. In the Coast Guard, father-in-law, and mother-in-law do not qualify as family members for the purposes of Humanitarian Assignments.

The problem must be able to be resolved within a specific time-frame (six months to two years, depending on the branch of service). Military members are expected to be available for worldwide assignment, at all times, according to the needs of the service.

That's a large part of why they get a paycheck. For those who have a permanent or prolonged family problem which prevents reassignment, humanitarian discharge is generally the appropriate action.

The Comptroller General has ruled that the military services cannot fund an assignment relocation for humanitarian reasons only. That means there must be a valid slot at the gaining base for the person's rank and job. For example, the Air Force would not be able to reassign an F-15 Fighter Aircraft Mechanic to a base that does not have slots for F-15 Fighter Aircraft Mechanics. However, sometimes a service will allow a member to re-train into a different job, in order to fill a required slot at the Humanitarian Assignment Location.

Army Compassionate Action Requests

The Army calls their Humanitarian Assignment Program "Compassionate Action Requests." Compassionate actions are requests from individual soldiers when personal problems exist.

The two types of compassionate requests are when personal problems are:

  • Temporary (resolvable within a year).
  • Not expected to be resolved within a year.

A reassignment may be authorized when there are extreme family problems and the soldier's presence is needed. A soldier may get a deletion or deferment from an overseas assignment if the problem requires them to stay in the U.S. for a short time.

If the problem is chronic or can't be resolved in a short amount of time, a compassionate discharge procedure is generally the most appropriate action. Consideration for reassignment may be given in cases of extreme family problems that are not expected to be resolved within a year if it meets the needs of the Army.

Requests are made on DA Form 3739, Application for Assignment/Deletion/Deferment for Extreme Family Problems submitted through the chain of command. This must be done by the soldier.  Commanders can disapprove compassionate requests when they clearly do not meet the prerequisites. The Army Personnel Command has approval authority for compassionate reassignment. 

Criteria for Compassionate Action

  • The soldier needs to be present to resolve the problem, and it can't be done with leave.
  • The problem cannot have been foreseen when the soldier last entered active duty.
  • A family member includes spouse, child, parent, minor brother or sister, person in loco parentis, or the only living blood relative of the soldier. If not one of those people, they must be documented as a dependent or, in the case of parents-in-law, no other member of the spouse's family can help.
  • For reassignment, a job (MOS) of the correct rank must be available at the requested installation.
  • A pending assignment may be deferred until the request is decided. However, soldiers in basic training will not be deferred from AIT pending the results.
  • The problem must be temporary and resolvable within one year, although longer deferments are sometimes approved.

Examples of Requests That Are Normally Approved

  • Death, rape, or severe psychotic episode of your spouse or minor child.
  • Terminal illness of an immediate family member whose doctor documents they are expected to pass within 12 months.
  • Major surgery for spouse or minor child which will have 12 months or less of recovery time.
  • If you were separated from your family due to military service (not negligence or misconduct) and your children are being placed in foster care.
  • Adoption if the child is being placed within 90 days and the adoption was initiated before notification of reassignment.
  • Soldiers en route from an accompanied OCONUS tour to an unaccompanied OCONUS tour may be deferred for up to 30 days. The deferment is for settlement of family when the soldier's presence is required for unforeseen problems.
  • A recent death of other family members with extenuating circumstances.

Examples of Requests That Are Normally Not Approved

  • You want to move to a new area.
  • Divorce or separation and legal actions relating to it, including child custody.
  • Gaining child custody in a divorce.
  • Sole parenthood.
  • Spouse's difficult pregnancy.
  • Family member's allergies.
  • Housing problems.
  • Financial problems.
  • Chronic problems relating to parents or parents-in-law.

If a compassionate action request is disapproved, a soldier may only request reconsideration for the same family emergency one time. If that is disapproved, there will be no further reconsideration.

For complete details about the Army's Compassionate Assignments Program, see Army Regulation 614-200, Enlisted Assignments and Utilization Management, paragraph 5-8.

More Humanitarian Assignments

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