Robert P. Sevy: His Life, Service, and Politics
Today, on Veterans’ Day 2016, I want to take a moment to remember, thank, and honor my deceased maternal grandfather, Robert P. Sevy (1931-1994), for his service in the U.S. Army during The Korean War.
Who was Robert Sevy? To begin with the basics, by occupation he was a machinist. For a large chunk of his working life he was employed by the Bendix Corporation (later known as Allied Signal and Honeywell). He was a union man who hated the union, which he believed to be both corrupt and inept. Of course he benefited from its positive ability to negotiate a middle-class wage and benefits—both of which he never mentioned. When the union came up, his primary mood was one of complaint.
Bob was also a faithful member, all his life, of what was then known as the “Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”—now called Community of Christ. That particular sect of Mormonism has a significant following in Missouri, where he lived most of his life (and where I grew up). One of his hobbies was restoring player pianos, in large part because of his love of Ragtime music. I covered this and its connection to Missouri once before here. I could spend many hours talking about Grandpa Sevy’s likes and dislikes—because he never failed, in a mostly good-natured way, to inform you of them. He was the most candid person I’ve ever known.
On his service in the Korean War, also known as “The Forgotten War,” he kept that time something of a mystery to his family members. I know he served with a tank group, and I think may have been a commander. He once told me, in one of the few times he opened up about Korea, that he was entirely with Douglas MacArthur when the general wanted to cross the Yalu River and invade China. But Bob wouldn’t talk much about his other war experiences. Like many veterans, he was reluctant to drag up the memories, fearing perhaps for his mental health or the judgment of others. But he also sensed, rightly I believe, that when I asked him questions as a young boy, my interest was more morbid than sincere. That said, I don’t know that he would discuss those memories even today, were he alive. They were locked in a box. That mysteriousness stood out in relation to his general mode of candidness in other matters.
Apart from his service, today I also want to reflect on the fact that Bob Sevy *loved* to talk and argue about politics. He was one of the most opinionated people I have ever known, yet he was also civil. His opinions came from a genuine place; they arose from deep concerns and his daily reading of the newspapers. Bob was a staunch conservative and a Republican. That made him a “Reagan man” and a fierce critic of Presidents Carter and Clinton. He hated “those elites” in Washington, Jefferson City, and Kansas City. He wrote letters to his representatives constantly. Bob never said this, to me anyway, but he knew that “politics” was just another way to talk about war and peace, and to hash out the meaning of the common good.
On his political faculties, as well as his sources of information and education, you have to start with the fact that Bob was a high-school dropout whose formative years came during the Great Depression and World War II. He compensated for his lack of a formal education with intense skepticism, Midwestern practicality, and a dedication to the pursuit of truth. Bob was also always reading (books on top of the newspapers) and listening to talk radio. He didn’t believe everything he heard, but he most certainly chose to believe in what resonated with his morals and life experience.
Bob Sevy wasn’t into proper sources or objective research. There was no time for that. There is no question, however, that he researched. He was a clippings guy. His rooms in the house (yes, he had rooms) were littered with yellowed newspaper articles, mostly covering the subjects of politics and religion. I have no knowledge of his filing system, but he could always fish out a relevant clipping to add to a conversation.
As a kid, I was always honored the Grandpa Sevy wanted to talk politics with me. It made me feel like one of the “grown-ups.” With me he wasn’t engaged in a contest of wills. Rather it was a more relaxed opportunity for him to teach and explore. He’d listen to my opinions, and ask questions—curious about my thoughts and reactions. It was a nurturing relationship more than indoctrination.
Were Bob alive today, I suspect we’d argue a lot. I’m a progressive Catholic, a democratic socialist, and an urbanite. I’m now one of those academic elitists employed at a Midwestern Ivy. I’m a historian who values facts and philosophy over subjective opinions and moral judgments.
Differences aside, I choose to honor the memory of Robert Sevy in two ways. When I argue and discuss politics, I do it because he taught me that politics matter. It is in the arena of politics where peace and war are decided. Through political discussions we ponder the commonweal, and try to find areas of compromise. Real and material goods arise from those discussions.
I also honor my Robert Sevy by trying always to be candid. He was authentic, real, and honest. The academy, as well as life and personal experiences, have beaten down my old habits of “fierce honesty.” And I needed that. But I remain dedicated to candidness and authenticity, in his honor. There can be little doubt that Bob is one of the sources of that commitment. – TL