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Accusations of communism ruined Utahn's life

He has written nearly every president for three decades, his fingers pecking at the keys of his old Royal typewriter: Dear President Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, perhaps you can help me . . . .

Paul McCarty was a middle-aged man when he began writing those letters. Now he is an old man. A widower. His wife's picture - Polly McCarty lying in her casket - is one of the first things he might show you if you visit his house in Cedar City.The FBI killed Polly, McCarty will tell you.

He has written presidents and senators and mayors, and spent $10,000 on attorney fees, and once, 15 years ago, he was featured on national television. But still McCarty has not gotten what he wants. So last month he wrote a letter to the federal court.

Your honor, it began. How do I get the FBI to explain and apologize for its 45-year-long persecution of me and my family?

Sometimes a man's life can have a theme, a single thread that runs through it so clearly it becomes a monogram. A man's life can narrow down to one defining moment, a vanishing point on his own horizon.

Paul McCarty's moment happened on a January day in 1953 in Paducah, Ky. He was working as a wireman on a construction project for the Atomic Energy Commission when he was called in to the security office.

His bosses showed him a letter, a letter that nearly 45 years later he keeps in a special notebook. "The Fatal Letter," he has typewritten at the top.

It outlines three charges against him: that in 1943 he was a member of the Communist Party, a fact he did not admit when he applied for the AEC job; that in 1949 he was a member of the International Workers Order; that in 1941 he subscribed to the Daily People's World, a West Coast Communist newspaper.

McCarty was fired from the AEC job. After that he had trouble for years getting jobs in his special field - testing and control electrician; jobs with companies who got federal contracts and therefore required government clearance.

Instead, for years he could only get sporadic, poorly paying work, he says, and a lot of it was out of state. The family, then living in Grand Junction, Colo., was always in debt. They lost three houses because of his financial problems, he says. Polly suffered a nervous breakdown and lost a baby girl in childbirth. She suffered another nervous breakdown when their oldest son was 6. In 1993, when she was 77, she died from complications of a stroke. All of these illnesses, says McCarty, were the result of his inability to ever clear his name of the charge that he was a communist.

He never was a communist, he says. His life was ruined, he says, because of mistakes and lies.

From the ideological comfort of 1997 it is perhaps hard to remember what being labeled a communist meant in 1953. It was the height of what became known as The McCarthy Era - a time so intense that, even though it only lasted four years, it has been classified as an entire time period.

It was a time of the "Red Menace" - not only the threat of the Soviet Union from without but the threat of infiltrators from within: ordinary Americans who were ready to sell America down the river.

Government employees were required to sign loyalty oaths. In 1950, Sen. Joseph McCarthy began holding hearings to root out communists and "communist sympathizers." Government workers, professors, Hollywood actors, writers and directors were questioned, then blacklisted.

But not everyone was called to testify before McCarthy and the TV cameras. It is estimated that 10,000 industrial workers, also on J. Edgar Hoover's FBI list, also lost their jobs. Many were as baffled as Paul McCarty.

It took 24 years for McCarty to finally discover a few specifics about the charges against him. Through the Freedom of Information Act, in 1977, he was shown the FBI's "confidential" information.

These included the results of interviews with two informants, "Los Angeles T-1" and "Los Angeles T-2." T-1 told the FBI that McCarty said he was a member of the Communist Party in 1943 and that he asked T-1 to attend party meetings with him. T-2, "a confidential informant of known reliability" who "was not personally acquainted with McCarty," said that McCarty was a member of the International Workers Order in 1949.

None of this was true, says McCarty.

He doesn't know who his informants were; their names have been blacked out, as have references to their gender. So he has tried, over the years, to figure out who they might be and why they might have accused him.

There are four possibilities, he says.

The first was a date he had in 1942, before he met Polly, with a woman who worked the night shift at a San Francisco restaurant. She told him she also worked for the FBI. McCarty, who assumed she was kidding, joked that he was a communist.

The second possibility is that his Aunt Ann confused his membership in an electricians union in 1941 with membership in the communist party. Aunt Ann didn't like unions, McCarty says.

The third possibility was his connection to a man named Smith, who owned a grocery store in Los Angeles and rented a room above the store to McCarty in 1941. Along with groceries, Smith sold newspapers, including Communist Party newspapers. Smith also sold McCarty an insurance policy that may, McCarty realizes now, have been connected to the International Workers Organization.

And there is a fourth possibility. This is the one that troubles him the most. He didn't know about this one until 1991, when Polly finally divulged a secret that had been troubling her for four decades.

Paul McCarty met Pauline Winters in 1944 at a USO dance in San Francisco. McCarty was with the Maritime Service then and would be leaving the next day for a year at sea. He and Polly went for a cup of coffee and talked for an hour or so.

Theirs was a wartime courtship. They wrote letters and saw each other for a total of probably only 10 hours before they married in 1946. The day they married was only the fifth time they had been together.

Sometimes, although Polly has been dead four years now, he will still talk about her in the present tense. "She's very handy," he'll say, proud of the work Polly did on their house in Cedar City. He points to a project Polly started before her stroke and that he has left unfinished. A shrine of peeling wallpaper.

Two years before her death, Polly told McCarty about something that had been bothering her for years. Before they married, she had been co-owner, with a man named Ken, of a flower shop in San Francisco. Ken was probably a communist, Polly told her husband. He may have had communist meetings at their store. And McCarty had written letters to Polly during the war, using the store address.

Maybe worrying about this was one reason why Polly had those nervous breakdowns, McCarty says.

He thinks about how much she suffered over it. He thinks about all those years when he couldn't get a good-paying job. He can't stop thinking about how unfair it all is. He wakes up at night and mulls it over again and again.

"I'm getting to the age where I don't have much time anymore," he says. He is sitting in his dining room. On a little shelf behind him there is a picture of Polly, a vase of artificial roses, and two American flags. He's always been patriotic, he says.

In 1980, after many letters from McCarty and his lawyer, Ross Anderson, the FBI finally agreed to destroy his files. But that isn't good enough, says McCarty. He wants to know what the real proof was. He wants an apology. In 1990 he contacted Anderson again.

Obviously chagrined by McCarty's persistence, Anderson wrote him a letter declining to do more to help him. "I spent dozens - perhaps hundreds - of hours (at no charge) on your behalf and negotiated a deal with the FBI . . . . You have obtained what you said you wanted, yet you want to maintain a futile battle. There is so much more to live for."

"You are a good man," wrote Anderson. "I wish you would put your energies into more fruitful endeavors."

Polly wanted him to give up the battle, too, says McCarty. But he just can't.

"It's buried so deep now," he explains.

He has received no apology from the FBI and it's unlikely he ever will. Do you ever apologize, a reporter asks a spokesperson for the FBI in Washington, D.C.

"No," says Angela Bell. "It's not appropriate now for someone to make a comment about something that happened so long ago."

When he buried Polly, MCarty had this engraved on her headstone: "40-year victim of FBI harassment." He'll remove the inscription, he says, when the FBI clears his name.