1952 December 29

Loyalty Oath May Force Legless WW II Veteran Out of Public Housing


On July 5, 1952, as part of the Cold War anti-Communist mania, Congress passed the Gwinn amendment requiring that residents of federally supported public housing swear to a loyalty oath and not be a member of an organization on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations. James Kutcher, a World War II veteran who lost both legs in the 1943 Battle of San Pietro, Italy, was a member of the Socialist Workers Party, whose name was listed. Kutcher was living with his 73-year-old father, who was the official resident in a Newark Housing Authority apartment. It was reported on this day that the elder Kutcher faced the choice of evicting his son or moving out of public housing himself. The ACLU had already agreed to represent the younger Kutcher in a constitutional challenge to the Gwinn Amendment.

Loyalty oaths were a special mania during the anti-Communist frenzy of the Cold War. Unlike traditional oaths of office which involve an oath to uphold the Constitution and the law, Cold War loyalty oaths required people to swear that they were not members of the Communist Party and/or other radical parties or movements. Thus, they were oaths regarding membership and beliefs without reference to any actual or planned illegal action. See, for example, the controversy over the University of California loyalty oath (April 21, 1950); the loyalty oath for labor leaders in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (June 23, 1947); and the loyalty oath for federal financial aid for college students in the National Defense Education Act (September 2, 1958) There was even a loyalty oath for Medicare recipients in the original 1965 Medicare law, although it was never enforced (see February 13, 1967).

Read the new book on the oath and the Kutcher case: Robert Justin Goldstein, Discrediting the Red Scare: The Cold War Trials of James Kutcher, “The Legless Veteran” (2016)

Read Kutcher’s own story: James Kutcher, The Case of the Legless Veteran (1973)

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

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