Legacies Project Oral History: Former U.S. Congressman John Dingell
Fri, 02/08/2019 - 10:57am
John Dingell Jr. (D) served in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Michigan delegation from 1955-2015. His 60 years in office make him the longest serving member in the history of the House. A long-time member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including 16 years as Chairman, Dingell was an advocate for environmental issues and a supporter of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Dingell was also the longest serving Dean of the House of Representatives. He passed away on February 7, 2019.
John Dingell was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2015-2016 as part of the Legacies Project.
- [00:00:08.88] INTERVIEWER 1: Please say and spell your name.
- [00:00:10.95] JOHN DINGELL: Dingell-- D-I-N-G-E-L-L, first name is John, middle initial is D.
- [00:00:16.98] INTERVIEWER 1: What is your birth date, including the year?
- [00:00:19.05] JOHN DINGELL: What's what?
- [00:00:19.83] INTERVIEWER 1: Birth date including the year.
- [00:00:22.00] JOHN DINGELL: My birthday is July 8, 1926.
- [00:00:27.42] INTERVIEWER 1: How would you describe your ethnic background? What is your religious affiliation, if any?
- [00:00:31.47] JOHN DINGELL: Catholic.
- [00:00:33.63] INTERVIEWER 1: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed?
- [00:00:38.06] JOHN DINGELL: Doctor of Law at Georgetown.
- [00:00:42.63] INTERVIEWER 1: What is your marital status?
- [00:00:43.95] JOHN DINGELL: I'm sorry?
- [00:00:45.21] INTERVIEWER 1: What is your marital status? Marital status?
- [00:00:49.49] JOHN DINGELL: Married, 35 years.
- [00:00:51.42] INTERVIEWER 1: How many children do you have?
- [00:00:52.70] JOHN DINGELL: Four. How many--
- [00:00:54.30] INTERVIEWER 1: Three, one has passed on, lost one about two months ago. I'm so sorry, so sorry.
- [00:01:00.87] JOHN DINGELL: It's a terrible thing. We have-- she was married to a Polish boy over there in Gdansk. We've not exactly found out what happened. I have a suspicion Polish medicine not as good as it could be.
- [00:01:20.96] INTERVIEWER 1: How many siblings do you have?
- [00:01:23.33] JOHN DINGELL: One brother, one sister. One sister passed on when she was about two. I'm the oldest.
- [00:01:34.85] INTERVIEWER 1: OK, now we can begin the first part of our interview, beginning with some of the things you can reveal about your family history, or beginning with family naming history. By this, we mean any story about your last or family name, or family traditions in selecting first or middle names. Do you know any stories about your family name?
- [00:01:53.51] JOHN DINGELL: Original name is Polish. It's [INAUDIBLE]. Our people came from all over Poland. Mostly they hit this country about 1870. They settled-- they came in through New York, settled in Texas. And then they went on down to Texas because there was a Polish settlement down there. They then moved north through St. Joseph, Missouri.
- [00:02:28.59] And came on up here and settled here, first in St. Catherine's Parish in Detroit-- 23rd and Myrtle. And I still have cousins in Detroit. All though the Dingells are scattered all over now, some in Detroit, some in California. A fair number in Texas, and others scattered around other parts of Michigan and the United States.
- [00:03:01.02] INTERVIEWER 1: How did your father's involvement in government and politics affect your own decision to run for Congress?
- [00:03:07.55] JOHN DINGELL: I was raised in a political family. Dad became concerned in 1914 about health. He was fired for union activity in St. West to die of tuberculosis. He found that there was no health care for a 20-year-old youngster, and there was very little in the way of union protection for young Americans, or older Americans, or kids. And the death rate was predigious, life expectancy very small.
- [00:03:52.14] And the right of a worker to belong to a trade union was very, very limited. He decided he was going to do something about that. And in 1924, he decided he was going to run for state legislature in Colorado where he went to die of tuberculosis, and the doctor gave him six months to live. He was told by the doctors he had six months to live when he was 20. And dad said that-- I won't say his exact words, but his answer was that the doc was dead wrong. He also became my godfather.
- [00:04:42.27] He died in 1935. Dad and he were friends till the doctor died in '35. And he became my godfather, which was quite an honor for a Pole to do that to somebody who was going to essentially become a second father to the child. So dad ran the campaign of Billy Sweet, who was the first Democratic governor in Colorado.
- [00:05:15.19] He failed by 100 votes, but he was elected. He missed getting elected by 100 votes, and he came to-- came back east, because he had four kids, one of my uncles, the one that died, who needed somebody to take care of him and my mom. My mom was thrown out of the house by her father because dad was four things-- he was Polish, he was Catholic, he was a Democrat, and he was a Wet.
- [00:06:03.19] Now none of you would know what a Wet is. Anybody here know what a Wet is? A Wet was a fellow who wanted to repeal prohibition. It was one of the great mistakes they made in the Constitution. And we undid it. Our people here were particularly strong opposed to it.
- [00:06:25.46] Poles made beer. The Irish made anything that they could get. Italians made wine. Germans made most anything they could get. And Hungarians did the same thing. And this area was a hotbed of violations of prohibition, which they had a bar down on-- in Del Rey which was called-- which first called Repeal Gardens.
- [00:07:03.90] I don't have to tell you what that meant, repeal of the Constitutional amendment, end the Volstead Act. And it made the-- frankly, it made the mafia, because they had a [INAUDIBLE] immediate markets available to them. Taft was elected in 1932 with Roosevelt at the height of the Depression. He served until 1955.
- [00:07:48.54] When he died, his friends and mine said that I should run for his seat, because I was the one guy that they thought could win it and would carry out his policies, which were protection of social legislation, Social Security, and social justice, which was a matter of great concern to dad and to the people here about [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:08:19.68] It was a time when about 30% of American workers were out of work. And when the communists-- we had more communists in this country-- three million-- than they did in the Soviet Union. Dad was one of those who helped kick them out of the labor movement, [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] with a good deal of pride.
- [00:08:47.85] And he paid his dues right to the end. He was very proud of that. So that was-- that was the story of his life. He was on the Ways and Means Committee, which was a tax writing committee. He was a foremost conservationist. I wrote mostly original early conservation. Was very interested in the cleanup for the waters, which included Great Lakes.
- [00:09:28.27] Spent an awful lot of time working on those kinds of questions, and conserving fish and wildlife. And he and I used to talk about conserving fish and wildlife. Which we did very well. I saved millions of acres of land for refuges, hunting and fishing. I'm responsible for major parts of the Clean Water Act. And for most of the Clean Air Acts, which I was the author.
- [00:10:07.50] And I wrote those legislation with balance, so that we could preserve and protect jobs. You are quite young, so you may or not remember what happens when the auto industry goes down, but everything around here goes to hell in a rush. And we just recovered from some of that. I wrote the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water and Clean Air Act. I wrote the legislation which preserves and protects millions of acres of refuges.
- [00:10:56.69] INTERVIEWER 1: We're going to address your work in Congress later.
- [00:10:58.62] JOHN DINGELL: OK, all right, then you take over and I will try and respond.
- [00:11:03.02] INTERVIEWER 1: Why did your ancestors leave to come to the United States?
- [00:11:07.07] JOHN DINGELL: Same reason most others did-- opportunity and freedom. Freedom and independence, liberty, something which they didn't get in the old country. My people came mostly from Austria and Poland. And it was a pretty grim place. It would have been worse if they had come from the parts that were run by the Prussians and the Germans.
- [00:11:44.51] The Russians tried to Russify the Poles. The Poles didn't take well to it, and it led to a whole bunch of revolutions against the czar. So we finally achieved independence after World War I. And then we won independence after World War I, and of course, we lost our own independence in 1939, when the Germans and the Russians took over Poland again.
- [00:12:21.30] And they didn't get it back until-- some people will tell you when the war ended. But in real fact, they didn't get their independence back until they kicked the communists out. I've been quite proud of being Polish. And you'll see, I have the highest award that the Poles can give to non-Polish citizen over there, which I'm very proud of. Big ceremony at the Polish embassy.
- [00:12:57.74] And I got to go to it. And they presented it to me before all my family. And then I got an award the president gave to Americans, the Medal of Freedom. And I'm very proud of it. It's being framed, and it will be going on the walls around here. And then I've got a lot of those that I don't hang on the walls so much anymore.
- [00:13:24.26] INTERVIEWER 1: We're going to address that later in the interview, the Medal of Freedom.
- [00:13:25.66] JOHN DINGELL: Pardon.
- [00:13:26.11] INTERVIEWER 1: We're going to address the Presidential Medal later in the interview.
- [00:13:29.68] JOHN DINGELL: Medal of Freedom, Presidential Medal of Freedom. There are only five given to all of the Americans. And I've got one of them. I'm really proud.
- [00:13:40.19] INTERVIEWER 1: So, thank you. That's my part of the interview. Hazel's going to take over.
- [00:13:45.89] INTERVIEWER 2: --the interview which is about your earliest memories and childhood. So in this part of the-- this part of the interview is about your childhood up until you began attending school. Even if these questions jog memories about other times in your life, please only respond with memories from this earliest part of your life. And that's because we will talk about the rest, the varying other parts of your life during the interview.
- [00:14:06.22] JOHN DINGELL: OK, well, have at it.
- [00:14:08.61] INTERVIEWER 2: So, first question is, what are your strongest memories of where you grew up?
- [00:14:16.05] JOHN DINGELL: Well, I grew up where-- frankly, the family hung its hats. My dad had had many different jobs. He was almost the vice president of Rocky Mountain Bell. He was in charge of collections. He ran campaigns for Billy Sweet, who I mentioned, the first-- he was the first Democrat governor of Colorado. I have the story of Colorado in my bones. I was five years ranger, four of them at Rocky Mountain National Park, where my job was to be a utility ranger.
- [00:15:08.90] My job to do rescue, and fight fires, and track bears, and patrol roads, and patrol the trails. And rescue folks who fall off mountains or got lost. It was a wonderful, wonderful job, before I learned about conservation, and I decided what I was going to do. I found that I could make a good living outside of conservation, but I could also do that. And at the same time have an impact on conservation.
- [00:15:50.67] That turned out to be the thing that I really wanted to do. So, I am very proud of what I have been able to do. I've saved refuges all up and down the Detroit River, about an 8,000 acre refuge, which we expect shortly to be up to about 12,000. It's going to be an international refuge, which the [INAUDIBLE] will join. I served 40-some years, almost 50 years on a migratory bird commission, which is in charge of purchasing that lands.
- [00:16:28.87] And I saw to it that the government put the money into it that it had to buy the land, that it had to have to save the migratory bird population, which is more than just ducks or geese. It's all kinds of things, like swans and herons, and you name it. And I was responsible in large part for the Alaskan Land Bill, which made it possible for us to save millions of acres of land up there.
- [00:17:06.07] One time I stopped the natives from stealing better than before four million acres of land, which is, believe it or not, which is the size of about four and a half Yellowstone National Parks. It was an interesting story. They took me to court. The courts denounced me. I thought it was just fine, but I was a lawyer, and I was good on the law. And I saw to it that the law prevailed even though the natives and their law firms didn't particularly like it.
- [00:17:48.48] I was an expert on food and drug, and saved most of the food and drug laws. And if you look, you'll find there's been a tremendous number of changes, which have made foods safe, water safe, drinking water safe. [INAUDIBLE] somehow or other, the state of Michigan didn't observe the law. And we've done a lot other things that were important. I had a bridge named after me here.
- [00:18:23.93] I've done a lot of others things like that, to see to it that we served our people with the things they needed to do what they had to do to take care of their lives. I was very active in saving the auto industry too, when they had the big collapse, [INAUDIBLE] a couple years ago. I think I got off the track. So if you want to get back on, [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:18:49.70] INTERVIEWER 3: Actually, Theo's going to follow up, but before we ask that, we're going to take a bit of a break and get some water, beverage [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:18:56.91] JOHN DINGELL: I don't feel a need for a break, unless you guys really want one.
- [00:19:02.87] INTERVIEWER 4: OK.
- [00:19:04.76] JOHN DINGELL: We can use the time well.
- [00:19:09.02] INTERVIEWER 3: Then we'll resume. I do want to do an audio check. Leah, you're getting good audio?
- [00:19:13.15] INTERVIEWER 4: Oh, yeah.
- [00:19:13.98] INTERVIEWER 3: OK. Theo, your follow-up question.
- [00:19:18.32] INTERVIEWER 5: Is everybody rolling again?
- [00:19:20.34] INTERVIEWER 3: I'm sorry.
- [00:19:22.15] JOHN DINGELL: I don't like you on your knees. I'm afraid somebody's going to think that you're asking me to marry you. And I'm already took.
- [00:19:31.39] INTERVIEWER 3: Well.
- [00:19:34.86] INTERVIEWER 2: I was--
- [00:19:36.63] JOHN DINGELL: Come on over here so I can hear you.
- [00:19:39.50] INTERVIEWER 2: Sure.
- [00:19:40.44] JOHN DINGELL: Then we'll do better this way. You don't mind, do you?
- [00:19:45.03] INTERVIEWER 2: Huh?
- [00:19:45.73] JOHN DINGELL: You know mind, do you?
- [00:19:46.60] INTERVIEWER 2: I don't mind. [INAUDIBLE] sit next to me.
- [00:19:48.57] JOHN DINGELL: Stay right there.
- [00:19:50.70] INTERVIEWER 2: This might go--
- [00:19:51.15] JOHN DINGELL: Sit down.
- [00:19:52.47] INTERVIEWER 5: [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:19:53.21] INTERVIEWER 4: [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:19:54.99] JOHN DINGELL: Sit down son.
- [00:19:55.63] INTERVIEWER 2: I'll take the chair.
- [00:19:57.87] INTERVIEWER 5: Well, we need the line of sight. So, Hazel should ask the question. Can you just give your question to Hazel.
- [00:20:04.87] INTERVIEWER 3: You could just--
- [00:20:05.37] INTERVIEWER 5: Or just be right next to Hazel.
- [00:20:08.28] INTERVIEWER 2: I didn't really have a question. I was just going to remind you that if you could stick to the time frame.
- [00:20:16.07] JOHN DINGELL: The time frame-- what?
- [00:20:16.95] INTERVIEWER 2: Stick to the frame that--
- [00:20:20.50] JOHN DINGELL: Hard for to know what that is. I'll do my best.
- [00:20:25.26] INTERVIEWER 2: I think what he's trying to say is that we actually will ask you about your work in Congress at the end of the interview. That's going to be part five.
- [00:20:33.43] JOHN DINGELL: It's all tied together.
- [00:20:34.71] INTERVIEWER 2: Yeah, right, I understand that, so--
- [00:20:35.97] JOHN DINGELL: Everything a Congressman does is tied together.
- [00:20:39.12] INTERVIEWER 2: Of course. And that's actually a lot of what we wanted to know about, like what impacted your decision to become a Congressperson, and what made it so important to you. So this is actually [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:20:48.90] JOHN DINGELL: We all come to Congress from different ways. Some of them are lawyers, some of them are doctors. Some of them are [INAUDIBLE], some of them are ne'er do wells. You name it, they do it or have done it.
- [00:21:03.72] INTERVIEWER 2: So what was your family like when you were a child, when you were really young?
- [00:21:07.83] JOHN DINGELL: Very loving family, wonderful family. My mother was the [? fellow ?] that kept everything together.
- [00:21:17.28] INTERVIEWER 2: And then what is your earliest memory?
- [00:21:23.02] JOHN DINGELL: I can only go back to about four years-- only about four. It was-- I was raised with a wonderful mother and a wonderful father. Holidays and Christmas, and, in fact, we were poor as Job's turkey. We had all of a sudden found we had lots of relatives when the Depression came along. And pop took them all in. We fed them and gave them a place to sleep. And it was a grim time for Americans.
- [00:22:04.57] INTERVIEWER 2: Would you say your family was very affected by the Depression?
- [00:22:08.63] JOHN DINGELL: Everybody was. Mom put shoes-- put paper in her shoes because she had no other way of doing it. When dad ran for Congress, he put-- he borrowed $4 that I had found walking around on the streets. And I gave him that. I never saw it again.
- [00:22:34.78] INTERVIEWER 2: So what did you do for fun with your family when you were a small child?
- [00:22:38.40] JOHN DINGELL: Played, like other kids did.
- [00:22:41.24] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, and then did you have any cultural traditions, or anything like that, that your family practiced in your early life, that maybe stand out to you or that you remember the most?
- [00:22:51.21] JOHN DINGELL: Oh, I hunt and fish with my kids. I take my kids-- or I did-- climbing the mountains and fishing, swimming, doing things like that. Traveled with them. My youngest now is in her 40s. So my kids are pretty well grown, three grandkids.
- [00:23:20.91] INTERVIEWER 2: All right, that would be the end of my section of the interview. So we can move on to section three now.
- [00:23:27.45] CREW: OK.
- [00:23:28.29] JOHN DINGELL: [INAUDIBLE] what?
- [00:23:29.14] INTERVIEWER 2: Your youth? Your youth. It's about your youth, this part of the interview.
- [00:23:34.64] JOHN DINGELL: A part of--
- [00:23:35.78] INTERVIEWER 2: This part of the interview is about your youth.
- [00:23:38.21] JOHN DINGELL: Yes.
- [00:23:39.49] INTERVIEWER 4: What age?
- [00:23:40.58] INTERVIEWER 2: Oh, from like from school attendance, to professional career or your work life, it's that time span.
- [00:23:49.29] JOHN DINGELL: Well, because our family moved around so much, I wound up taking my first three years of school in one year. I read very early, read for fun when I was a kid. I went to Hall of Divine Childhood in Monroe. And I came up and went to Jesu Parish. And I went to other schools.
- [00:24:27.64] The family would spend half a year here and a half a year there, in Washington. Mom and dad would load the car with kids, and January 1st, we'd go down to Washington. And come back here 1st of July. And proceed to do the things that we did in Michigan. Dad was a hard campaigner.
- [00:24:59.22] And he also spent an awful lot of time running his office and campaigning around the district, seeing his people, tending to the things that needed doing. He was 23 years in the Congress. I was 49 years. That's the longest [INAUDIBLE] service in the history of any members of Congress.
- [00:25:29.16] INTERVIEWER 2: So where did you go to elementary school?
- [00:25:31.56] JOHN DINGELL: Where?
- [00:25:32.17] INTERVIEWER 2: Yes.
- [00:25:32.93] JOHN DINGELL: Well, Hall of Divine Childs mostly, and Paige School for a while. Our family didn't have exactly an ordinary life. We moved back and forth because of dad's job. And it worked out fairly well. It was satisfactory. All of us got good grades. My brother got a PhD and was a teacher and instructor at Vanderbilt. He ran major government agencies dealing with controlled narcotics and things like that. Me, I got law school and also got a degree in chemistry.
- [00:26:33.70] INTERVIEWER 2: Where did you go to high school?
- [00:26:35.76] JOHN DINGELL: Well, all over. Georgetown Prep, University of Detroit High School. We went where dad and mom we're living at the time because we had to.
- [00:26:52.75] INTERVIEWER 2: What do you remember about high school?
- [00:26:57.01] JOHN DINGELL: I survived.
- [00:26:58.14] INTERVIEWER 2: That's good.
- [00:27:00.86] INTERVIEWER 4: [INAUDIBLE] Let Theo [INAUDIBLE]
- [00:27:05.44] JOHN DINGELL: I went to a boys school most of the time and we didn't exactly know what a girl was in those days. I've remedied that since.
- [00:27:18.32] INTERVIEWER 2: Mr. Dingell, having moved around so much in your childhood, why did you choose to practice public policy in Michigan, rather than Colorado or--
- [00:27:29.91] JOHN DINGELL: I lived here. This is home. Michigan has always been home. And we've always come home to Michigan, because it is home. I think if I had a pick, I might have gone to Colorado or out West, but I didn't have a pick.
- [00:27:53.43] When I got out of the Army, I had to decide what I was going to do. So when I finished school, I had job offers back here, including law firm and the privilege of working with a law firm, being an assistant prosecutor. So I took those opportunities.
- [00:28:17.24] INTERVIEWER 5: We're going to take a quick break here.
- [00:28:19.58] INTERVIEWER 4: Yeah.
- [00:28:20.74] JOHN DINGELL: [INAUDIBLE] over at my hard side over there fellas.
- [00:28:23.97] INTERVIEWER 5: Sorry about that.
- [00:28:25.03] INTERVIEWER 2: We're going to take a quick break to get some water.
- [00:28:27.53] INTERVIEWER 4: And to check our battery.
- [00:28:30.48] JOHN DINGELL: When I came out of the Army, I got a little blue Plymouth convertible. And Georgetown would let you out the 1st of May for the summer vacation. And then they didn't come back until the 1st of October. The car was loaded on the 1st of October. The car was loaded on the 1st of May.
- [00:29:05.79] And as soon as I could get the hell out of Washington, I was gone. I worked three jobs. I had actually two jobs in law school. And I was just absolutely exhausted. But it took me about three days to drive out there. And when I'd get out there, I'd report for duty at headquarters. I didn't start work until about the middle of May.
- [00:29:36.44] And then, until the middle of May, I was high in the mountains, fishing for trout, and climbing mountains, and looking at deer, and elk. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I couldn't-- when we were rangers, we couldn't take-- we couldn't take people with us, because we were essentially assigned to a lone station. So I had to do all this alone.
- [00:30:09.66] And that sort of spoiled it, because I had a lot of good friends on the station. But we really had some great times running around the back country. And I had jobs at different stations, where I'd be 20 miles from any road. I couldn't believe that they would pay me for doing this, but they did. It was wonderful. All right, you got business. I've delayed you, and I apologize. [INAUDIBLE] continue.
- [00:30:41.53] INTERVIEWER 2: Those are some really interesting stories. What are some of your favorite memories at Georgetown University?
- [00:30:46.64] JOHN DINGELL: Georgetown?
- [00:30:47.22] INTERVIEWER 2: Yeah.
- [00:30:48.99] JOHN DINGELL: Well, that's a funny thing. Georgetown, I hated philosophy. It turned out that the philosophy was the single thing that perhaps gave me the best grasp on life. It taught me why things are as they are, and what things really mean.
- [00:31:16.32] I shot on the rifle team. I showed up. A big fella, I taught physical instruction and all kinds of things in the Army. I showed up at the football coach's office, and he said go away, you're too small. So I just went to school. But then I got a job. And it was neat, because I could do what it was I needed to do to earn a decent living, or earn a living while I was going to school. It meant a lot to me.
- [00:32:02.77] INTERVIEWER 2: Did you engage in any other extracurricular activities?
- [00:32:08.78] JOHN DINGELL: Well, I didn't have much money, so I couldn't chase women. But I did do as much as I could. I hunted deer every fall. Was a big turkey hunter, deer hunter. Taught my brother to hunt. And did a lot of things like that. It was a great-- Georgetown was a great school, great educational institution. And the Jesuits teach. They'll teach you as much as your head will take. And that was very important, because I needed you know how to think in this job.
- [00:32:54.62] INTERVIEWER 2: What about your school experience is different from school as you know it today.
- [00:32:58.38] JOHN DINGELL: I'm sorry?
- [00:32:59.27] INTERVIEWER 2: What about your school experience is different from school today?
- [00:33:03.36] JOHN DINGELL: I've been out of school 50 years, I'd be hard put to tell you. Jesuits have pretty much a stable standard system of education. They call it the [INAUDIBLE] And they do what they do, the same way they did under St. Ignacius. That was a great experience. They have moved to the left and become much more liberal. When I was there, they were slightly to the right of Louis the 13th. They're now very progressive. And that makes me feel good about it.
- [00:33:45.57] INTERVIEWER 2: That's good. OK, so during your youth, what did you do for fun? What did you do for fun?
- [00:33:52.73] JOHN DINGELL: Studied. No, I really did. I ranked very high in my class. Friday night, some of my veteran friends and I would go out, drink a few beers, and that was it. We mostly had to work. And it was a boys schools, so there were no opportunities to chase ladies. And it was-- that was a great deficiency in my school, but I did make up for it by going to-- going west. And they had a lot of pretty girls that worked in the lodges around Rocky Mountain National Park. So I made up for it during the summer time.
- [00:34:50.43] INTERVIEWER 2: Were there any changes in your family life during your school years? Were there any changes in your family life during your school years?
- [00:34:58.77] JOHN DINGELL: Not really. [INAUDIBLE] moved from freshman to sophomore, and that sort of thing. [INAUDIBLE] I suspect it was pretty much the same as yours. I took the heaviest schedule I could, because I knew I was going to need as much in the way of knowledge as I could get.
- [00:35:18.50] I graduated with something like 168 credits or something like that. And I worked like the devil to do it. Georgetown was tough. They wouldn't let you get out of school without a required number of courses and credits. So I took everything I could.
- [00:35:43.17] And that included history, and accounting, and all kinds of things. Which everyone said, what are you doing that for. I said hell, if I'm going to practice law, these are things that I'm going to need to know. And if I were in your shoes, and I had a chance to learn about knowledge of history, and things like that, business, I'd sure do it, because it's important to you that you have that knowledge. it's very important. All right, fire away.
- [00:36:24.99] INTERVIEWER 2: All right, when thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at that time? And how did they personally affect you and your family?
- [00:36:34.86] JOHN DINGELL: Who, boy. My dad was in Congress. It was a very, very important job. He was very close to Truman. I had just gotten out of the Army. So I was in a reserve outfit. [INAUDIBLE] infantry. Not paratroop, but glider infantry unit in the reserves. And after I'd been in there 10 years and Korea was over, I called him up, and I said, can I honorably quit the Congress-- or can I honorably quit being a reservist.
- [00:37:28.16] They said, Dingell, you've done your duty and more. I'd risen to be a first lieutenant. And I said, well, I appreciate that. I said-- they said, don't you want to stay in, you got 10 years. You can get 10 years more for a decent return. I said I'm not interested in return. I just want to serve the country. So anyway, they let me retire. And I said, tell me, what was my schedule in the service.
- [00:38:02.74] Well, I never did anything of any particularly importance while I was in the military. But I did do everything that they told me. I ran companies. At one point I had 27 full-time jobs. So they said, well, we'll work at your records. So they called me back, and they said you-- you were picked-- or you were in an outfit that was going to be in the first wave into Japan.
- [00:38:34.63] Got into the military very late, during the war. So I said, well, how was my life expectancy. They said you had about a 10 second life expectancy. So, anyway, that took some of the enthusiasm out of it for me. And then we-- I ran-- I got my retirement and I ran for the Congress, because I couldn't do both.
- [00:39:14.01] It was a great experience. I got a lot of training, mountaineering and things like that, that were valuable, while I was in the reserves. That's about the only really remarkable thing I did while I was in college, in the university.
- [00:39:34.06] INTERVIEWER 2: What was it like to be on the House floor when President Roosevelt delivered his famous speech after Pearl Harbor?
- [00:39:40.17] JOHN DINGELL: It was a very interesting thing. I was chosen by the chief pages, one of the more senior pages, to take care of a fellow by the name of Fulton Louis, Jr, who was sort of the grand [INAUDIBLE] of the far right.
- [00:39:59.23] And he was making a [INAUDIBLE] recording of the president's speech. There was only one vote against it, the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor on Sunday. And then they had-- he had come up to the Capitol to ask for a Declaration of War.
- [00:40:28.42] And so I was there when [INAUDIBLE] Rankin [INAUDIBLE] She voted against World War I and World War II, both. So the upshot was that she did vote no. And then they wouldn't let her talk. And it was interesting, because a lot of the right wingers weren't getting to let her-- they wanted to get themselves at peace with their country, because they didn't want to-- they didn't want to get it put on the basis that she could make a speech.
- [00:41:12.63] And they couldn't. She was the only vote against it. Well, anyhow, she got to speak on Wednesday, because Hitler didn't declare a war on the United States until Wednesday. And that ended the fuss. But I let Fulton Louis keep going with his steel tape recorder, which hisses. You can hear the hiss sometimes if they play it. So that you could understand what he said.
- [00:41:48.35] That's the only recording of that kind of thing that happened up until that time. So I'm rather pleased that we were able to save that. And you still hear it quite occasionally. After we got done, everybody said to me, Dingell, you shouldn't have let him do that, and I said, well, that's right, I shouldn't have, but it was valuable history and the American people are entitled to it.
- [00:42:11.12] INTERVIEWER 2: Thank you for preserving that. How did your experience with military service affect the way you made policy decisions?
- [00:42:20.05] JOHN DINGELL: Well, I ran all kinds of things. I had 27 full time jobs. I had two payrolls of about $8 million a month, some of which I-- some of which I paid. And I had to walk around with two great big sergeants, [INAUDIBLE] guards and submachine guns, because that was-- $8 million a month was quite a hunk of money in those days. Destroyer only cost a million. So anyway, that was the story of my-- of how I felt.
- [00:43:11.29] INTERVIEWER 2: Did it have any effect on your choice to become a Congressman?
- [00:43:16.54] JOHN DINGELL: Well, I went through quite a bit of agony to decide what I was going to do. My dad's friends all pushed me to do it. My own personal family, my wife and kids, they didn't push one way or another. My wife, she didn't push one way or another. Mom didn't push one way or another. But it was always dad's friends, all said, John, you ought to do it.
- [00:43:51.82] There were a lot of things he wanted to do, like Social Security, cleaning up the Great Lakes. And if you don't run, those things won't get done. And they won't protect Social Security, because Social Security was under attack. There were all kinds of things that he had stood for and wanted done. Dad was one of those who pushed very hard for what was called social justice.
- [00:44:22.55] You don't hear the word very much anymore. What it means is, you do right to those who have the least. You don't hand them money or hand them out, but you see that they have education and opportunity. So that they can [INAUDIBLE] their responsibility as citizens. Truman found that we weren't feeding the kids. So that's how the school lunch program came about.
- [00:44:51.62] All these kids were in bad health, because they had bad nutrition. And we had a lot of kids who were not in good health, because they had not had proper health care. And so, we saw those things were tended to, much of them after the war. And it made a big difference in the country.
- [00:45:17.73] This country remade itself. Before the war, it was sufficient to have a high school diploma. It wasn't enough after the war. All the vets came back and they had help getting through college. They got that when they came back. That was the first time.
- [00:45:37.33] Other countries had much higher standard in terms of the number of people that went to college, law school, things of that kind, produced engineers. And this was a lot, was Truman's business in doing. It made a huge difference. And dad was one of those who believed in social justice. It was one of the things that the Catholic bishops were pushing very, very hard for, because they knew that this was essential to the strength of the country. But it also was essential to the well-being of the people.
- [00:46:20.75] INTERVIEWER 2: That's a very important cause. I think I'm going to turn it over to Hazel now.
- [00:46:27.50] JOHN DINGELL: This is your meeting, fellows. You tell me what you want done and I cooperate.
- [00:46:34.47] INTERVIEWER 2: So now I'm moving on to the fourth section of the interview. This is about your adulthood, marriage, and family life. So this set of questions covers a relatively long period of your life, from the time you completed your education, entered the labor force, or started a family, until all your children left home, and/or your spouse-- you and your spouse retired from work.
- [00:46:56.39] JOHN DINGELL: I'm not sure I understand your question.
- [00:46:58.86] INTERVIEWER 2: Oh, this isn't the question. I'm just prefacing what this section of the question is going to be about. So first, if you could tell me a little bit about your married and family life. So if you want to talk about your wife.
- [00:47:12.95] JOHN DINGELL: Well, my first marriage was a disaster. My first wife was an incredibly beautiful woman, but she was also was a woman who had very serious emotional problems. As a matter of fact, her mother and her whole family did. I didn't know this. So I chased her for five years and I finally caught her. One of the worst things that ever happened to me.
- [00:47:40.37] But anyway, I married her. And I had-- after the second child came, I had to go in and get the-- get a divorce. I got the custody of the kids. If you're Catholic, you'll know what it means. I got an annulment. And at one point, they called the-- the clerk of the court called-- the clerk of the religious court called the clerk of religious court back east, because she was living out in Colorado, and said, for God's sake, give that man his annulment. We've never seen a case which is so justified.
- [00:48:33.39] She took and hit the judge when he was deciding the case, with her purse. She hit-- caused huge upset in friends of the court when they were taking her testimony on the custody of the kids. The clerk of the religious court called me and said, we're going to have to hear from your wife. And I said, well-- I didn't say a word. I just laughed. And he said, why are you laughing.
- [00:49:14.04] And I said, Father, when you talk to this woman, you will understand why I should have custody. Same thing with the clerk of the courts and the county court here. So I have-- had got it annulled. And after five years, I married Deborah. And it's been one of the happiness things that's ever happened to me.
- [00:49:47.37] INTERVIEWER 2: Glad to hear that. If you want to answer some questions about her. So about Ms. Dingell. Where and when did you meet?
- [00:49:57.88] JOHN DINGELL: Well, we met on an airplane. She's a white knuckle flyer. She was going to Washington. And I took her-- well, I sat next to her, and she didn't particularly like me. She thought I was loud and tough. And she wanted literally nothing to do with me.
- [00:50:18.72] But she had a problem with-- with-- frankly, she was upset about the flight. So it was her job to she that I soothed her feelings by giving her somebody to talk to. She has since taken help from a psychiatrist and now she's in the air probably more than any place else.
- [00:50:57.17] INTERVIEWER 2: So if you want to talk about your engagement and wedding?
- [00:51:01.85] JOHN DINGELL: No, that's for Deborah to talk about.
- [00:51:06.01] INTERVIEWER 2: OK.
- [00:51:16.16] JOHN DINGELL: Let's just put it this way. It was a great surprise to everybody that we got married. And it was one of the happiest events of both of our lives. And it's been a happy time for the both of us. And if any of you guys get a wedding like that, you should be very, very pleased, and proud, and happy.
- [00:51:41.66] INTERVIEWER 2: So how many times did you ask Debbie out?
- [00:51:46.00] JOHN DINGELL: 15. Well, at least that's her count. I don't know what the number is. I think I finally wore her down. She thought she was going to get rid of me. And then she got mugged on the street after I'd been seeing her for about a year. So I went over with another good friend of hers and mine, and we nailed her back door shut, because they got her keys from her. And I stayed that night over there.
- [00:52:27.37] And we saw to it that nothing bad happened. And then, in the morning, I said, I'm going to-- I have some bridges to burn, I'll be back in about 10 days. And I'm going to ask you a question, and I hope you'll say yes, because I wasn't going to leave her in that neighborhood where something bad could happen.
- [00:52:56.94] It turned out to be a very smart thing or my part. Probably a terrible mistake or hers. But it's given me 35 years of real happiness. I hope you all get that kind of happiness.
- [00:53:13.12] INTERVIEWER 2: Thanks. So, tell me about your children and what life was like when they were young and living with you.
- [00:53:22.49] JOHN DINGELL: Well, got two engineers, one of whom has moved over in the [INAUDIBLE] business. Got one who is circuit judge, and a damn good and respected circuit judge. Got a daughter that I just lost in Poland, his two kids, lovely kids, just wonderful.
- [00:53:47.25] And I lost a boy and a girl-- I lost a girl over in Poland. That's Jean. She was the one that used to hunt with me. The two boys did. Jennifer would not. But they were wonderful, wonderful kids. And good friends of mine. Jennifer is an absolute wiz at managing numbers, and datas and figures. And she does very well.
- [00:54:30.53] INTERVIEWER 2: What did your family enjoy doing together when your children were still living with you?
- [00:54:36.49] JOHN DINGELL: We used to hunt and fish together, camp out. [INAUDIBLE] around the state in a camper trailer.
- [00:54:48.41] INTERVIEWER 2: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you practiced that were different from your childhood traditions?
- [00:54:55.27] JOHN DINGELL: About the same.
- [00:54:57.12] INTERVIEWER 2: The same.
- [00:54:57.95] JOHN DINGELL: We're sort of a standard American family. Your very quiet over there in the corner, son, you all right?
- [00:55:09.73] INTERVIEWER 2: Yes, yes. I'm here for the follow-up questions or clarification questions.
- [00:55:17.32] JOHN DINGELL: You'll probably need plenty of them.
- [00:55:21.01] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, so now we're going to move on to part five.
- [00:55:23.80] INTERVIEWER 1: OK, that's me again.
- [00:55:25.24] INTERVIEWER 2: And then-- [INAUDIBLE] soon after that.
- [00:55:28.38] INTERVIEWER 1: OK, here we go.
- [00:55:29.75] INTERVIEWER 2: Thanks.
- [00:55:31.81] INTERVIEWER 5: Can I ask a quick question?
- [00:55:33.65] INTERVIEWER 2: Go ahead.
- [00:55:35.26] INTERVIEWER 5: Do you believe that you've instilled the same love of nature that you had as a child into your own children?
- [00:55:42.26] JOHN DINGELL: Yes, my one boy went to state-- well, actually, the two boys-- all my kids loved to fish, or hike, or camp. I've got one that only likes to hunt-- I've got only one that doesn't like to hunt. But they get around in the wild country, climb mountains. One of them became a very skilled mountain climber.
- [00:56:18.87] She was in the Tetons, which if you can crime in Tetons, you're good. But that's the one that I lost. And then I got Christopher and I talked about what he was going to do. He found there was only one job in conservation in the whole state of Michigan. He said, he got halfway through Michigan State.
- [00:57:01.78] He called me up and said, dad, I can't do it. I said why. He said there's only one job. I said well, go if you can. He said, I don't think the odds are good enough. He said, I'm going to try to get the-- try and take an engineering degree. So that cost me two years of-- cost me a year of college, in engineering.
- [00:57:31.06] And then, he decided he was going to-- he couldn't do that. So he took his degree in engineering, then he wound up getting-- they asked him to run for the state senate. And he became a very successful state senator. And then he became a very successful state senator. And then along came the term limits, so he had to move on. And he moved on and became a circuit judge.
- [00:58:11.51] It was an interesting thing. It was particularly interesting to him, because when the state would come by to see him about a favor or something, he'd always help them, but he'd always remind them in a nice way that fellas, when I needed help, you didn't help me.
- [00:58:30.73] And the upshot was, it all came out OK. He's now one of most respected judges on the bench in Wayne County. It was hard, hard work for the kid. I shouldn't call him a kid, because he's now in the middle 50s. But they loved the outdoors. I had them hunting up in Alaska. I had them in South America. I've had them other places where they've gone with me and we've had great times hunting and fishing together.
- [00:59:13.63] Christopher was one of the major sponsors of most of the conservation legislation that became law while he was in the legislature.
- [00:59:26.06] INTERVIEWER 2: I think we're going to take another break.
- [00:59:27.88] INTERVIEWER 4: Yes, because I think Michael, you have--
- [00:59:32.32] JOHN DINGELL: MY kids, it's a picture of the bayou where I used to hunt ducks. And god, it's a beautiful, peaceful thing. And you can't spend enough time just looking at it, finding peace there, it's remarkable. Are you ready, pal?
- [00:59:50.98] INTERVIEWER 2: They're starting back up, sir.
- [00:59:53.32] JOHN DINGELL: OK. All right, fellas, let's go, what are we doing?
- [00:59:58.52] INTERVIEWER 2: We're going to follow up with some questions about just some things that we were interested in.
- [01:00:02.55] JOHN DINGELL: I'm sorry?
- [01:00:03.38] INTERVIEWER 2: We were just going to follow up on some more things we were interested in. Which president was your favorite and why?
- [01:00:11.10] JOHN DINGELL: Well, we've had great ones and bad ones. I think the greatest of all was Roosevelt. He got elected four times. That's remarkable. Saved the country from communism, won World War II. If we hadn't won it, we'd all be speaking either Japanese or Chinese.
- [01:00:38.60] He saved the country from the Depression. And that was so close, it wasn't even funny. We had 3 million communists here. Had 2 million in the Soviet Union. And he had to live in constant fear of them taking over the country.
- [01:01:01.24] He died while he was working. And Truman was his successor. Carried out Roosevelt's plans for world peace. The UN is actually what Roosevelt wanted. And had he not done that, we would have had just the same kind of just awful damn wars that we got under the united, under the League of Nations, which turned out to be a colossal failure.
- [01:01:42.70] Hitler walked out and Germany walked out and Japan walked out and Russia. Never did a damn thing except cause problems there. It was-- he did as much as you could to lead this country. And see to it that we got the country to organize itself to get ready for war. And then doing that in 1936. That was stopped us from having a health insurance bill, back in '36.
- [01:02:22.12] He was a social reformer. His wife was a wonderful woman. It was a tremendous team. Where she was going out and finding out what needed doing. She'd come in and report to him. She caught him playing around with two women. One was Lucy Mercer. And I forget who was the other. But prevented him from-- prevented them from living as husband and wife.
- [01:03:03.49] But he conquered a terrible, terrible case of polio. He never walked. You saw a lot of pictures of him walking. Well, he had 10 pounds of iron on each leg. When he came back from Yalta, he walked in on those damn things. He went down the row of the House in his wheel chair, and he said I hope you'll forgive me for doing this, because I have to-- I'm very tired. I've just taken about a 18,000 or 20,000 mile trip.
- [01:03:44.70] He stood up to Stalin. Churchill was trying to save the British Empire and he gave up on it. Roosevelt didn't. Truman was the second. Chairman fooled everybody. They didn't think he was going to amount to a hill of beans, but he not only did that, but he was a president who took no sass.
- [01:04:10.16] Had a meeting one time with a guy by the name of Molotov, who was the foreign minister of Russia. And Molotov was absolutely shocked by something that Truman said. Truman said-- Molotov said to him-- he said you-- I've never been talked to anybody like that in my life before. He was a guy that you talked to that way, and you lost your head. So Truman said, well, if you kept your word, and honored your commitments, you wouldn't be talked to that way.
- [01:04:58.46] And so, they best the best that they could to get the damn Russians out of Eastern Europe. They couldn't, because they had about 12 million men. We only had 8 million in Lawrence at the time, and we couldn't have done it. And the British were exhausted and broke. We had to go in and save them.
- [01:05:26.07] There were other good and great presidents, including Lincoln and Washington. The first Roosevelts, there were-- they earned their keep. Wilson, pretty good. But Wilson was an academic, and not really-- and he spent his time being a scholar. And being a scholar is fine, but you got to know how to do things politically. I don't think that-- the only one who would match Roosevelt in that particular was Lincoln. He was a whiz.
- [01:06:15.23] And he could-- he'd have people come in and see him about something. And if he didn't want to do it, he'd cause the discussion to go off to something. He'd say, my, you have big legs. End the whole damn discussion.
- [01:06:32.59] It was like my dad. My dad had-- my sister, a brother of mine, he'd call my sister. My sister would come in, and she'd say, dad, I'm in love. And papa would look at her and he'd say, what's the boy? She'd say his name, she says that's the one-- and he say is that the one with big feet. And she'd said, yeah. Well, that killed him.
- [01:07:08.94] And my brother came in to dad one time. He said, dad, he said, I'm in love. And pop looked at him and said, who is it, son. And Jim told him-- Jim said-- and dad said, son, he said, you're not in love. You got a stomachache. And that's the kind of thing I wish I had the talent to do. I picked up a little as we went along. What are the other questions?
- [01:07:50.86] INTERVIEWER 2: So how did the time after the war, during the Cold War, affect your time in Congress?
- [01:07:56.86] JOHN DINGELL: How did what?
- [01:07:57.79] INTERVIEWER 2: How did the Cold War affect your time in Congress and the decisions you made?
- [01:08:03.48] JOHN DINGELL: [INAUDIBLE] everything everybody does.
- [01:08:06.94] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, which president did you have the closest relationship with?
- [01:08:13.25] JOHN DINGELL: I was close to Gerry Ford. I was close with Clinton. I was close with [? Truman, ?] with Clinton, with Truman. I was-- I had some closeness with all of them, except for Roosevelt, who, frankly because of his illness and the terrible burdens he had, didn't have much time for a kid like me.
- [01:08:53.19] INTERVIEWER 2: There are pictures of you hunting with Bill Clinton. What was that like?
- [01:08:57.23] JOHN DINGELL: I'm sorry?
- [01:08:58.07] INTERVIEWER 2: What was it like to go hunting with Bill Clinton?
- [01:09:01.75] JOHN DINGELL: He's a very personable guy. To other members and I arranged for him to go with us. And it was a wonderful day. He's a very normal, ordinary human being. Sitting at a duck line, you get to know a guy. And we had a wonderful time, sitting in [INAUDIBLE] talking.
- [01:09:24.22] Coldest damn day of the year and everything was froze up. We sat there with him and he shot the only damn duck we shot that day. And all three of us who were hunting with him said, I didn't get that duck, you got it, Mr. President. And that story will stay and spread [INAUDIBLE] that fact that he was with three of the best duck shots I've ever known.
- [01:09:55.41] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, which piece of legislation out of all that you've worked on are you most proud of?
- [01:10:02.13] JOHN DINGELL: Probably the Civil Rights Bill, Voting Rights Bill. That solved an unbelievable problem in terms of the rights of American citizens to vote. But I've done a lot of others I'm very, very proud of. And I don't want to have to rank.
- [01:10:25.11] INTERVIEWER 2: Was there a lot of pressure for you not to support the Civil Rights Act?
- [01:10:28.44] JOHN DINGELL: Yes.
- [01:10:30.59] INTERVIEWER 2: Where was it coming from? Can you describe it more?
- [01:10:33.66] JOHN DINGELL: People who didn't want it. I was running for Congress. I had just been redistricted. The members of Congress from this district had a story going around that-- there was a story going around this district that said that if I was elected to Congress there would be a black family living in every block in every neighborhood.
- [01:11:06.93] I said, well, so what. They're entitled to live where the hell they want. This Constitution says so. Now that's 1964 and it never happened. But anyhow, we had that happen. So I had been involved a lot in politics. And politics in the down river is kind of a rough and ready game. So I told my people, I said we're going to have a phone tree. And we're going to have a collection system.
- [01:11:58.06] So we set out, and the phone tree found if there were any literature distributions going on in the last two days before the election. The night before the election, there out delivering it. So they phoned it in to headquarters. And I was in the headquarters. This is about 3 o'clock in the morning. They said god, Dingell, this is awful stuff. They said it's going to tell how if you're elected to Congress every block is going to have an African-American citizen in it.
- [01:12:44.90] They said what are we going to do with it, are we going to destroy it? I said, hell no, this is wonderful literature, we're not going to let it go to waste. I said, we're going to put it to use. I said get the phone tree going. We had picked it all up. And we set out, around the district, redistributing the stuff. We distributed the stuff they wanted to go in the white areas into the black areas.
- [01:13:13.42] And the stuff they wanted to go into the black areas into the white area. And all of a sudden, they got this inflammatory literature with all his stuff on it, but it was-- it denounced-- it essentially denounced him, rather than denounced me. And so, the next morning, when the vote came, had two cities with fairly heavy of racial majorities. And that was all we had.
- [01:14:05.93] So I checked the votes there. And in one, we won 10 to 1, and one, we won 5 to 1. Everybody said Dingell, why the hell did you only win 5 to 1 in this one place? I said well, they didn't give us enough literature. We ran out.
- [01:14:27.52] But that's not done anymore. I never put out a bad piece of literature, but I did put it out on occasion to assist the other guy in telling the truth and doing what was right. Worked fine.
- [01:14:47.89] INTERVIEWER 2: How did it affect you personally when people attacked your character?
- [01:14:52.35] JOHN DINGELL: I'd get mad.
- [01:14:56.18] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, and sorry, I have one more question. I can't remember it. I think, Hazel, you're up.
- [01:15:09.32] INTERVIEWER 2: So, if you don't want to answer this, it's totally OK. But I'm just wondering, you said the presidents that you were closest with, and I'm just wondering if there are any presidents that you were-- which president you feel you disagreed with the most. And so, like, either politically or personally, if you feel comfortable answering that question.
- [01:15:26.53] JOHN DINGELL: I would disagree more with Bush.
- [01:15:32.45] INTERVIEWER 2: Which one?
- [01:15:33.20] JOHN DINGELL: 43. He and were good friends. I was very fond of him. But he was a terrible president, and he's a very nice man. Bush 41, pretty much the same, although I got along with much better, and I agreed with him much more.
- [01:15:59.81] INTERVIEWER 2: So you've said a lot about how your opinions haven't changed at all.
- [01:16:04.71] JOHN DINGELL: Oh, that's a complex question. You don't want me to answer that. I can't do it anymore.
- [01:16:09.77] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, well, can I ask a question, and you can just tell me if you want to answer it or not?
- [01:16:14.64] JOHN DINGELL: Ask the question, we'll see.
- [01:16:16.91] INTERVIEWER 2: So as far as like LGBTQ rights, how have your values affected your opinion on that? Or what--
- [01:16:26.87] JOHN DINGELL: The values are the same.
- [01:16:28.64] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, so what helped to change your mind on--
- [01:16:31.97] JOHN DINGELL: Values are [INAUDIBLE] on principles.
- [01:16:34.42] INTERVIEWER 2: Huh?
- [01:16:35.87] JOHN DINGELL: Values or bottomed on principles.
- [01:16:39.51] INTERVIEWER 2: Right, OK.
- [01:16:40.39] JOHN DINGELL: And if you have good values and good principles, and adhere to them faithfully, you will do fine. And you have to have them. And you have to stand with them.
- [01:16:54.83] INTERVIEWER 2: So who do you plan to vote for in this presidential election?
- [01:16:59.12] JOHN DINGELL: I don't know who's going to be running.
- [01:17:02.90] INTERVIEWER 2: Who do you think will win the Republican nomination?
- [01:17:05.98] JOHN DINGELL: Well, I have no idea.
- [01:17:07.22] INTERVIEWER 2: No idea. OK.
- [01:17:09.80] JOHN DINGELL: Frankly, I'd be hard put to vote for any of them.
- [01:17:14.31] INTERVIEWER 2: And then so, between the Democratic candidates right now, who do you think aligns with your values the most.
- [01:17:20.00] JOHN DINGELL: Hillary.
- [01:17:20.36] INTERVIEWER 2: Hillary, OK. Why?
- [01:17:24.55] JOHN DINGELL: I know both she and Bernie. They're both good people, but Hillary is the better of the two. She has more experience. And I think more substance. Bernie's a good guy, but he doesn't have the stamina and the strength to be a lasting president, whereas Hillary does.
- [01:17:59.44] CREW: There's still another question, [INAUDIBLE] on my sheet.
- [01:18:12.27] INTERVIEWER 2: What was the hardest legislation that you've put forward and what made it so difficult?
- [01:18:21.09] JOHN DINGELL: Probably the Voting Rights Act and the bill on the 19-- on the health care bill.
- [01:18:40.87] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, so what made those so difficult? And then also, what made them important enough that you still chose to put them forward, even knowing the adversity you would face?
- [01:18:49.22] JOHN DINGELL: Voting rights was a question of absolute necessity, we're going to do that. The other one was of urgent importance to the country. We had people dying in the street. Your kids couldn't get health insurance. Now you can get it on your parents concern. If you had some kind of a health care-- some kind of a health problem, you couldn't get it, you couldn't get health insurance. If you had a preexisting condition, they just let you die in a ditch and say, here, sorry.
- [01:19:33.84] INTERVIEWER 2: So why was it so difficult to pass those two pieces of legislation?
- [01:19:38.44] JOHN DINGELL: Huge-- well, a huge number of people didn't want voting rights.
- [01:19:43.83] INTERVIEWER 2: Why do you think that is?
- [01:19:46.74] JOHN DINGELL: Racial prejudice. And huge amounts of money and effort put into beating it. And on the other one, there was a tremendous amount of money spent to see to it it didn't become law. Dad and I worked on it from 1936 on. And finally got it-- finally got it into law.
- [01:20:13.84] INTERVIEWER 2: Why do you think so many people were opposed to it?
- [01:20:17.69] JOHN DINGELL: [INAUDIBLE] And I think if you look to see why people like it now, you will see a rather clear answer. They found that it's going to take care of them. No pre-existing conditions. You get the right of appeal. You can go on your parents policy until you're 26. Can't do that-- couldn't do that before. Does that do it?
- [01:20:53.76] INTERVIEWER 2: I think so.
- [01:20:54.69] JOHN DINGELL: Well, you're a charming bunch of young people. And I thank you for the pleasure of your company.
- [01:20:59.70] INTERVIEWER 2: Thank you.
- [01:21:01.39] INTERVIEWER 2: Thank you so much. This is amazing.
- [01:21:05.01] JOHN DINGELL: OK. Well--
- [01:21:10.86] Pretty good, pre-existing conditions. We got [INAUDIBLE] we got it from suppliers, we got it from our own firm. [INAUDIBLE] They didn't do a damn thing for her. We got a letter from her a while back, after we passed the damn bill. And she was-- she was going sick worrying about this.
- [01:21:36.89] CREW: Oh, sure. Yeah, it will break you.
- [01:21:40.78] JOHN DINGELL: And look, I can't get you free insurance. I cannot. But I can get you insurance at a fair price. Insurance means that you share the cost of insurance. Insurance does not mean you don't pay for it. But what the insurance companies were doing beforehand, is called risk avoidance.
- [01:22:07.91] They weren't paying and damn nickel on these things. The money that they were paying was to take care of avoiding costs of covering guys like you. I would tell you, look, you don't get away with nothing. I will tell you what Deborah and I experienced with our health insurance. [INAUDIBLE]
- [01:22:35.02] And as you can observe, I'm been very sick. I mean sick. It's one of the reason I quit the Congress. Our monthly insurance bill was a huge insurance bill. But at least we know guys like the you can now get insurance. And she can do insurance on her father's insurance.
- [01:23:05.56] And you, if you've got a pre-existing condition, they can't kick your ass off if you have an insurance policy. So you don't-- this is about social justice. These people would have you believe that this is a matter of us giving away what belongs to people. That's not it. What we're doing is seeing to it that everybody has a fair chance of growing up. A fair chance of a realizing happiness as they go about their life.
- [01:23:41.64] Now, there's going to be a few who can't. And then for them, we have put in subsidies which will care for them. That is a very, very important thing. And that's why this kid, who he's got this insurance, they got to take care of him. Now, ultimately, when he starts making more money, he'll pay more.
- [01:24:08.00] But that's just too, because otherwise, you and everybody else here has to pay for him. And that's not right. So, what we did on these things, is to see to it that we apportioned these expenses fairly. We did the same thing on Medicare. We fixed it so that the Medicare took care of them and you. It took care of people who were hopelessly ill. That was important. Because you had to take care of them. You couldn't just let them die like a dog in a ditch.
- [01:24:47.47] INTERVIEWER 2: [INAUDIBLE]
- [01:25:40.68] JOHN DINGELL: We're in an important fight with the Chinese. And so we've got to do these things, so that we can be strong. Otherwise, you better learn Chinese, or German, or Russian, or some other damn thing, because there's nothing here that will help us. And Truman found that our kids go in the army, they were not strong, why? No food. Inadequate meals. So he put on the school lunch program.
- [01:26:15.34] That fed our kids so that the kids could be healthy when they went into combat. And we did all of those kinds of things, because they were important, they're humane. But the interesting thing is is that good humanity, and good intelligence, and good economics, and good health have points where they come together.
- [01:26:42.08] That's what we did. Now I was there to see it, when my dad and Truman did those things. And it was very important. But I also saw to it that when my turn came, I was able to finish it off. I finished off what was my dad wanted done. And I finished off what I wanted done, what I thought [INAUDIBLE]
- [01:27:04.83] And I saved the outdoors, so when someone's got a decent place to live, or fish, or hunt, or go sleep under a tree, he can do it. It's a lot. I was a ranger in the national park service and I saw all the beauties of the wild places. And I saw how it was for me to be free and roam around places where I knew nobody had ever been before.
- [01:27:35.13] INTERVIEWER 2: That was part of Roosevelt's inspiration behind the Civilian Conservation Corps too.
- [01:27:39.74] JOHN DINGELL: He did all kinds of things like that. Two things in mind-- the Civilian Conservation Corps was to help him take care of the kids and get them the hell off the street. It also was for something else. It was to see to it that the kids learned about those things. It was also to see to it that the kids got appreciation for those things. He also wants to see to it that the kids built good, strong bodies.
- [01:28:12.43] INTERVIEWER 2: Which ended up helping when we got into the war.
- [01:28:15.40] JOHN DINGELL: Oh, hell yes. If you looked at the guys who were in the war early, they're mostly CCC guys. And they were good.
- [01:28:25.06] INTERVIEWER 2: There were so many that were ineligible because they were in such poor health before that.
- [01:28:29.33] JOHN DINGELL: Sure. And when I was a page boy, I'd sit there and listen to those damn fool Republicans. And they'd say, how are we going to afford this? And my dad and the others would say, how in they hell are we not going to afford this.
- [01:28:43.06] INTERVIEWER 2: Right. Roosevelt's my favorite too. And I've read a lot about him. In fact, I wrote a script about him. So I have a personal question. Did you ever know his daughter, Anna? Did you ever know Roosevelt's daughter Anna? Do you ever meet her?
- [01:28:58.36] JOHN DINGELL: I did, but only a little bit. I was a small kid. And I was an unimportant individual. I got to learn to know, because dad would drag me along, but I was not important.
- [01:29:13.52] INTERVIEWER 2: OK, because I wrote a script about his final days as told through his daughter, Anna.
- [01:29:18.81] JOHN DINGELL: Anna was the one that arranged for him to have Lucy Mercer there the night he died.
- [01:29:23.92] INTERVIEWER 2: Right.
- [01:29:24.76] JOHN DINGELL: And it caused all manner of trouble between her and Mrs. Roosevelt. And they never got together afterwards. And they never lived in the same house. She built a lodge down away from the house. And she'd still come back. And she was sort of his eyes and ears. She and Henry Wallace were his eyes and ears.
- [01:29:53.44] INTERVIEWER 2: Did you get to know Mrs. Roosevelt well?
- [01:29:56.47] JOHN DINGELL: I knew her better than I knew her husband, because she did things [INAUDIBLE] that he could not do. Franklin had to be lifted on and off the toilet. He had to be lifted into the car and out of the car. And life was very, very hard for him. I've only seen one picture of him in the odd ball wheelchair of his.
- [01:30:26.20] And I saw when he came back from Yalta. And he told everybody how sorry he was that he had to appear this way, because he, frankly, was sick and tired. And then he went down to [INAUDIBLE] to try to and get his health back. It didn't work.
- [01:30:50.79] INTERVIEWER 2: Yeah, it was only about a month later that he died.
- [01:30:52.87] JOHN DINGELL: I think it was more like two weeks.
- [01:30:54.70] INTERVIEWER 2: Something like that, yeah.
- [01:30:56.81] INTERVIEWER 2: We learned that not many people knew he was in a wheelchair. Was it a big secret?
- [01:31:01.95] JOHN DINGELL: Everybody knew it, but nobody knew it. They would not-- they would not admit they knew it. The press would not write it. So when you see Roosevelt having a press conference, he's sitting there behind his desk and talking to all these people. And when he would meet with the British on the battleship up in Canada and stuff, he would always be standing there by Churchill and by the gun batteries on one of those British battleships.
- [01:31:40.19] And that one battleship he was photographed with was sunk about a month later, by the Japs off the Asian coast, south Asian coast. It was a-- take by word, it was-- those were grim times. We were not convinced that we were going to win that fight.
- [01:32:03.65] INTERVIEWER 2: That was pretty close in the end.
- [01:32:06.28] JOHN DINGELL: Well, you ought to read those history. The history was extraordinary. They went from nothing, absolutely nothing to a country that won the war. We had less people in our Army then did the Panamanians. It didn't take us long. We got that army up to where it was a decent size. They were untrained, totally unready.
- [01:32:38.85] But we got them in. And they got the living hell kicked out of them when we went into Africa. Then they came out [INAUDIBLE] and that was the first division. They were in then Sicily, and Sardinia, and on into France. And they just kicked the hell out of those Germans. And they were mad as hell at this, at everybody, because they got stuck going in and they didn't want to do that.
- [01:33:05.26] And they're the guys that went into the really rough battle on D-day. They put them in there, because they knew that was going to be the worst of the two. And they wanted troops in there that they knew could take it. And boy, did they take it. They caught living hell. Their casualties, we had 2,000 casualties on 15,000 men. It was a brutal fight.
- [01:33:37.44] INTERVIEWER 2: What were you doing when D-day was going on?
- [01:33:39.51] JOHN DINGELL: Oh, hell, I was 15. I was late. I wouldn't be around here. The 17 million guys who were veterans and came out of the war, actually it was about 18. There were only 15 million of us. And there were only 17 million of us who came home. And the rest of us, the rest of us have all died since. They're down to less than a half a million now. They're gone.
- [01:34:10.57] INTERVIEWER 2: And my father was one of them.
- [01:34:11.61] JOHN DINGELL: Veterans die, because they're old. And they die because they're not up to the physical thing. And those guys had-- they lived in the Depression. They didn't get to eat right. It was a grim, grim time. You look at the photographs of Americans during the Depression, my friend. You will see, we didn't have it very good.
- [01:34:36.82] INTERVIEWER 2: My dad's family was one of those. My dad was 12 years old when President Roosevelt was elected and he was 25 when he died.
- [01:34:46.77] JOHN DINGELL: I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a relationship between the two. And I will tell you something else that is not an uncommon experience. A lot of guys who left orphans and widows behind. That's why they put that insurance policy in, $10,000, which was a big chunk of money then. They did all kinds of things to take care of those guys. That's the first war that we took care of our vets.
- [01:35:15.26] INTERVIEWER 2: The GI bill. The GI bill, is that what you're talking about?
- [01:35:18.57] JOHN DINGELL: Yeah.
- [01:35:19.25] INTERVIEWER 2: That was Roosevelt too.
- [01:35:20.25] JOHN DINGELL: Broad, sweeping thing, it took care almost everybody.
- [01:35:22.89] INTERVIEWER 2: That's where college education became prominent.
- [01:35:25.95] JOHN DINGELL: Sure, if it hadn't been for that, we'd of been [INAUDIBLE] Well, you guys take care. I'm going to take a nap.
- [01:35:32.28] INTERVIEWER 5: OK, thank you again.
- [01:35:34.01] INTERVIEWER 2: Thank you, so much.
- [01:35:34.52] INTERVIEWER 5: It was a pleasure and an honor.
- [01:35:36.30] INTERVIEWER 2: Thank you so much.
- [01:35:37.06] INTERVIEWER 5: It was, it was wonderful.
- [01:35:38.10] INTERVIEWER 2: It was really great to hear you, thank you.
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