Senator, war hero backed civil rights

Daniel B. Brewster -- 1923-2007

August 21, 2007|By Liz F. Kay and Frederick N. Rasmussen | Liz F. Kay and Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN REPORTERS

Daniel Baugh Brewster, a former U.S. senator and decorated war hero who rose above a public battle with alcoholism and a corruption scandal, died of liver cancer at his Owings Mills home late Sunday. He was 83.

"His life was devoted to his country and to the state of Maryland," said his son Gerry Brewster of Towson. "It wasn't a perfect life. He made mistakes and he had setbacks, but he became an inspiration by overcoming those mistakes."

"He was a hero in every way," said former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"Danny Brewster always enjoyed a privileged socioeconomic position but was in every aspect of his personal and governmental life a man of compassion," said Bobby Knatz, Mr. Brewster's administrative assistant while he was in the Senate in the 1960s and a friend of 50 years.

"He always believed in the dignity of his fellow man and projected that respect regardless of race, color, creed or economic status," said Mr. Knatz, special assistant to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

The former senator, a Democrat, was a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin, said his son, who wrote a 275-page biography of his father for his senior thesis at Princeton.

Mr. Brewster's great-grandfather, Benjamin Harris Brewster, was U.S. attorney general from 1881 to 1885 under President Chester A. Arthur.

The first of five children, Daniel Baugh Brewster became the man of the house at age 10 when his father died. His mother remarried, but his stepfather soon died, leaving him the oldest of six children, including a half-sister, Gerry Brewster said.

Daniel Brewster attended Gilman School in Baltimore and St. Paul School in Concord, N.H., where he was president of the Class of 1942. He immediately started a summer session at Princeton University and volunteered for the Marine Corps in the fall at age 19, his son said.

Daniel Brewster was a troop commander as a young lieutenant in a raider battalion with the 4th Marine Regiment of the 6th Marine Division, his son said.

Mr. Brewster, who led assault waves on Guam in 1944 and Okinawa in 1945, was wounded seven times in three incidents. The family has the helmet he was wearing when he was shot in the head on Sugar Loaf Hill on Okinawa, his son said.

Senator Brewster had a scar on his forehead where the bullet lifted the helmet and grazed his scalp, his son said. He was awarded a Purple Heart, two Gold Stars and two Bronze Stars.

Despite his privileged upbringing, the war and the cultural realities he saw when he returned home instilled in Daniel Brewster a "real passion for civil rights and equal treatment for all people," his son said.

While overseas as a Marine officer, he was outraged after a sergeant under his command executed several Japanese prisoners their platoon had captured.

"I asked the sergeant where his prisoners were, and he replied that they had tried to escape and he had to shoot them," Mr. Brewster told Michael H. Rogers, editor of Answering Their Country's Call: Marylanders in World War II, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2002.

"I called him a liar and just shook my head. I had to call back to headquarters and tell them we had no prisoners coming. Some men just could not accept having even just a few Japanese survive," he said.

Mr. Brewster returned to Sugar Loaf Hill in the 1960s and found it a much different place. A housing development occupied the former battlefield, which he described as a "deadly fought over piece of land."

"There were no signs or memorials to remember all the Marines who fought and died on that very spot," he said.

Later, some of his Green Spring Valley neighbors were outraged that he invited to his home African-American friends he had met during the war.

"That is what propelled him to run for office," his son said. "He saw things in society he wanted to change."

He attended night and day school at the Johns Hopkins University until he earned enough credits to enroll in the University of Maryland School of Law. He graduated in 1949 by supplementing his coursework with night classes at George Washington University's law school.

He then formed a law practice with John Grason Turnbull, then majority leader of the Maryland Senate, Gerry Brewster said.

At the time, Mr. Brewster was known as a "gentleman jockey," riding in steeplechases such as the Maryland Hunt Cup five times.

With fame as a war hero and as a jockey, he was elected to a countywide House of Delegates seat representing Baltimore County in 1950, at age 26, and served two terms.

Lou Panos, a former Evening Sun writer and now a Towson Times columnist, covered the Maryland General Assembly when Daniel Brewster was a member. Mr. Panos said one of the politician's shining moments came when the legislature was debating a proposal to give bonuses to World War II veterans.

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