Howard W. Cannon – Major General, United States Air Force Reserve United States Senator

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Former Democratic Senator Howard Cannon, who once survived 42 days behind enemy lines after his plane was shot down during World War II, was likened at his funeral Monday to a 21-year-old U.S. Army Ranger who died last week on the battlefield in the war on terrorism.

“They are heroes from different generations,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in comparing Cannon, 90, to Boulder City resident Matthew  Commons,  whose services were held the same day across the country at Arlington National Cemetery, where Cannon ultimately will be buried.

Cannon, who died Wednesday, would go on from his service as a World War II pilot to become a major general in the Air Force Reserve and a revered four-term
senator. After a rich life, he died a peaceful death.

Two days earlier, Commons met a violent death while serving as a soldier alongside other Rangers who also died during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

After Cannon's services at Palm Mortuary on Eastern Avenue, Gov. Kenny Guinn said both men deserve to be honored for their contributions toward protecting America.

In the eulogies, Cannon was praised for his efforts to help win passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Panama Canal Treaty. Speakers remembered how the man who loved to fly used his political power to keep Nellis Air Force Base well-funded during his 24 years in the U.S. Senate, from 1959 to 1983.

But some of those with swollen eyes entering the service had personal comments as well. Las Vegas attorney John Hunt, an intern for Cannon some 20 years ago, teared up as he said of his former boss: “His accomplishments were a matter of record; his heart was too big to put on paper.”

More than 300 people attended Cannon's service, including former staff members, many of whom went on to enter politics, to the top tier of the state's current and former elected officials.

Outside the chapel, photos of Cannon displayed the personal life as well as the political. Many were of Cannon with his family, including wife Dorothy, son Alan, and daughter Nancy Downey. In others, he was pictured with presidents: John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

His nephew, Douglas Hedger, allowed Cannon himself to speak to the mourners by reading from the senator's writings about his life, starting with his memories about the early times in St. George, Utah, where he was born Jan. 26, 1912.

Cannon wrote about his pursuit of an education, saying he watched the difference it made in the life of his father, a banker and postmaster as well as a rancher and farmer. “Through his example, I knew I wanted to do something other than farming,” Cannon had written.

And he did, earning a law degree and moving to Las Vegas in 1945 after World War II. He was Las Vegas City Attorney from 1949 until 1958, the year he was elected to the first of four terms in the U.S. Senate. After his bid for a fifth term was thwarted by Republican Chic Hecht, Cannon remained in Washington, D.C., for 10 years as an aviation and defense consultant before he and his wife returned to Las Vegas in 1993.

Hedger said his uncle was an unpretentious man whose character didn't change during his political career.

“He drove a Ford Sable, and that was splurging,” Hedger said. The senator's idea of a good meal was to drive that Sable to Kentucky Fried Chicken for take-out.

But Hedger said Cannon “set a wonderful example of leadership. He was honest, he was caring, he was sincere. He did not make decisions because he could make a name for himself, but because it was the right thing to do.”

Sara Denton, who ran Cannon's Las Vegas office for 14 years, said Cannon remembered the details of people who would come to his office for help. He would check with her whether someone had received their Social Security or VA check. “He had the memory of an elephant, but a mind like a Democrat,” she said.

While he paid attention to individual Nevadans, his efforts as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee to deregulate airlines had an impact on millions of travelers. And his work for the Southern Nevada Water Project in 1965 allowed Southern Nevada to meet the water needs for an expanding population.

Former Sen. Richard Bryan described Cannon as a shy, private person, who didn't tout his accomplishments like “the rest of us, who rushed to get press.”

Reid ended the political eulogies by asking the mourners to stand to give Cannon his final standing ovation.

Outside the chapel, Cannon received a 21-gun salute.

Across the country, at Arlington National Cemetery, so did Commons.

March 8, 2002

Cannon services Monday
Former Senator to be buried at Arlington

Sen. Harry Reid and former Sen. Richard Bryan will be among the many political figures and other civic leaders attending a memorial service Monday for former Sen. Howard W. Cannon.

The service is scheduled at 10 a.m. at Palm Mortuary, 7600 S. Eastern Ave., for the four-term Democratic senator who died Wednesday. Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Palm.

Cannon will be buried during a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery later this month, his daughter Nancy Downey, said.

Cannon, who served Nevada in the Senate from 1959 to 1983, died at Odyssey Health Care hospice of congestive heart failure. He was 90.

A highly decorated World War II pilot, Cannon became Las Vegas city attorney after the war, where he served until his election to the Senate.

As the second ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he was “so personally committed to maintaining American military superiority that he test flew all new aircraft before voting for money to develop them,” Reid said. He also rose to chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

He spearheaded projects to bring water from Lake Mead to the Las Vegas Valley and was a strong advocate for Nellis Air Force Base.

A full military honor guard from Nellis will be present at Monday's services.

Deputy Public Defender Douglas Hedger, a nephew of Cannon and a local bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will deliver the eulogy.

The service will end with “America the Beautiful,”  Downey said. “My dad loved all of the patriotic songs.”

In addition to Downey, Cannon is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and son, Alan Howard, both of Las Vegas, and sister, Evelyn Jay, of St. George, Utah.

The family requests donations in the senator's name be made to the Cannon Center for Survey Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, or the Alzheimers Association, Southern Nevada chapter.


March 7, 2002

Howard W. Cannon, 90, Senator Who Served Four Terms, Dies

Former Senator Howard W. Cannon of Nevada, who served four terms as a moderate Democrat and was unseated after Teamsters union officials were accused of offering him a bribe, died today at a hospice in Las Vegas. He was 90.

Mr. Cannon had been in ill health for several years and died of congestive heart failure, a family friend told The Associated Press.

Mr. Cannon was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the late 1970's. Federal prosecutors built a case alleging that on Jan. 10, 1979, Mr. Cannon met in his Las Vegas office with Roy L. Williams, the president of the Teamsters, and several Williams associates to hear the Teamsters chief's plea that Mr. Cannon use his influence to block a bill to deregulate the trucking industry.

The government charged that Mr. Cannon was assured of a valuable piece of Las Vegas real estate in return for his help. Mr. Cannon was never indicted, swore that he had never been offered a bribe and insisted that he did not know the union leader “from a bale of hay” when the supposed bribe offer was made.

When he was called as a defense witness at the trial of Mr. Williams and the others in November 1982, Mr. Cannon insisted repeatedly that no bribe had been offered. Two other witnesses contradicted Mr. Cannon, saying that he had been assured he would be well treated on the land transaction.

The land was eventually sold to someone else, and the legislation the Teamsters disliked was passed early in 1980.

Mr. Williams and his co-defendants were convicted. The union chief was sentenced to several years in prison.

Despite his denials of wrongdoing, the Teamsters union episode hurt Mr. Cannon politically. At the start of 1982, he expressed confidence that he would win re-election. But he lost his seat that fall in a close upset to a Republican, Chic Hecht, a former Nevada state senator who had worked in Ronald Reagan's 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns.

Mr. Cannon said later that his most significant accomplishment in the Senate was his role in passing legislation that deregulated the airline and trucking industries.

Born on Jan. 26, 1912, in St. George, Utah, where his father operated a cattle ranch, Howard Walter Cannon graduated from Arizona State Teachers College, where he starred in several sports, and received his law degree from the University of Arizona.

During World War II, he was the pilot of a transport plane that was shot down over the Netherlands in 1944 after dropping a contingent of paratroopers. He and a fellow officer, Frank Krebs, hid for six weeks behind German lines before American troops liberated the area.

Mr. Cannon was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. He became a major general in the Air Force Reserve and flew as a hobby for much of his life. Mr. Krebs later became a Senate aide for Mr. Cannon.

Mr. Cannon practiced law in Las Vegas after the war and was elected city attorney in 1949. He narrowly won the Democratic primary for the Senate in 1958 and ousted the incumbent Republican, George W. Malone. In 1964, he faced a tough re-election battle. Nevada had segregationist tendencies at the time, and some voters resented Mr. Cannon's vote to end a filibuster by Southern Democrats trying to block the Civil Rights Act. Some Republican strategists tried to link Mr. Cannon to Bobby Baker, the Senate secretary who was then at the center of a financial scandal. Mr. Cannon beat the Republican candidate, Paul Laxalt, by 48 votes of  more than 134,000 cast.

He easily won again in 1970 and 1976, but in 1982 he lost to Mr. Hecht by 5,657 votes of about 235,000 cast. Afterward, Mr. Cannon complained that reporters had not been aggressive enough in pressuring Mr. Hecht on important issues.

Mr. Cannon is survived by his wife, Dorothy; a son, Alan; and a daughter, Nancy Downey, all of Las Vegas.

March 06, 2002

Former U.S. Sen. Cannon dies at age 90

Howard Cannon, a World War II hero and four-term U.S. senator who became one of the state's most powerful and endearing figures of the last half century, died today. He was 90.

Cannon, a Democrat, was a lawyer who became a champion for Nevada on Capitol Hill, pushing Nellis Air Force Base before he was defeated in 1982 in one of the biggest political upsets in state history. In his career, Cannon, who rose to the rank of major general in the Air Force Reserve, also played a major role in the civil rights movement.

“It's a sad day for Nevada,” Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said. “He represents the best in Nevada.

“He was a lawyer's lawyer,” Goodman, a criminal defense lawyer, said. “He represented the people of this state with vigor and with great success. He will never be replaced.”

Cannon, a Las Vegas resident for 56 years, died of congestive heart failure at 6:20 a.m. today at the Odyssey House Hospice. He had entered the facility on Monday and had been ill in recent months.

Services are pending.

Two-term Nevada Gov. and Sun Executive Editor Mike O'Callaghan, who worked for Cannon as a legislative aide, said Cannon's life resulted in great progress for the state and nation.

“He was a good man to work for and going into Senate meetings with him always gave me a feeling of  pride,” O'Callaghan said.

“He lived the American dream and his work helped millions of others enjoy that same dream. Howard's life has been a full experience which resulted in great progress for out state and nation.”

Cannon led a fascinating life that he didn't much talk about, said former Democratic Sen. Richard Bryan, who cast his first vote for Cannon as a 21-year-old in 1958.

Bryan said Cannon had been shot down in World War II and found himself with co-pilot Frank Krebs, a future staffer, behind enemy lines. The two dressed as Dutch farmers to avoid capture, Bryan said. Cannon wrapped his neck with bandages to fake a throat injury to cover the fact that he couldn't speak Dutch. Cannon eventually reunited with U.S. troops.

In Congress Cannon helped build infrastructure in Southern Nevada, Bryan said. He was active as a  lawmaker in advancing airport projects, securing water for Las Vegas through Lake Mead projects, and pushing programs at Nellis, where Cannon had a close relationship with military leaders, Bryan said.

“It is an enormous legacy for which I think he often failed to get credit,” Bryan said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., paid a birthday tribute to Cannon in a speech on the Senate floor in January,  harkening back to Cannon's days as a boy lassoing wild horses. Reid said Cannon helped pay for his flying lessons with money he earned playing musical gigs.

“He was so personally committed to maintaining American military superiority that he test flew all new aircraft before voting for money to develop them,” Reid said. “He helped preserve Nellis Air Force Base when it was threatened with funding cuts and worked to make Nellis one of the pre-eminent military installations in the world.”

Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said you don't have to look far to find many examples of Cannon's contributions to Nevada.

“When Nevada was in its infancy, he provided that strong foundation for all of the things to build upon,”  Perkins said. “He worked to bring this state so many things.”

State Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, worked for Cannon in the spring of 1982 on a faculty internship from UNLV.

“He was so powerful,” Titus said. “Being in his office was right in the thick of everything going on. He was powerful, but he was very low key, very amiable, very pleasant.”

Cannon was born Jan. 26, 1912, in St. George, Utah, to Walter Cannon and the former Leah Sullivan. His father was a farmer and a banker. He came to Las Vegas in 1946 and became a measuring stick for Nevada politicians.

Cannon began his local political career in 1949, being elected as Las Vegas city attorney. He served 10  years in the post.

In his first bid for national office, in 1956, Cannon lost in the primary for Nevada's then-sole seat in the House of Representatives. Two years later, Cannon won what would be an extended stay in the Senate.

Cannon was re-elected in 1964, 1970 and 1976 — rising to seventh in seniority in upper house. He lost in 1982 to Chic Hecht, who served one term.

Nowhere was Cannon's influence in helping Southern Nevada more evident than in his support for Nellis Air Force Base. Cannon ‘s role as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee helped the base grow by leaps and bounds.

He, along with Sen. Allen Bible, is credited establishing Nellis as a major military base.

If Cannon were remembered for nothing else, perhaps it should be for the vote he made that blazed the path for equal rights for all — the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cannon voted to end a filibuster by Southern Democrats, which led to the floor vote in favor of the civil rights legislation.

“My view simply was that it was something that needed to be done, and I was glad to help do it,” Cannon said in an Aug. 6, 1995, Sun story. “I wasn't afraid that it would make things tough for me politically (back home).”

In the 1970s, Cannon was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, he pushed for laws that deregulated the airline and trucking industries.

He spent 10 years in Washington as a consultant in the 1980s and '90s before retiring to Las Vegas in 1995.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; one daughter, Nancy L. Downey, wife of William Downey of Las Vegas; one son, Alan Cannon of Las Vegas; one sister, Evelyn Jay of St. George, Utah; and four grandchildren, Brett Bjornsen of Roswell, Ga., Kayli Bjornsen and Tyler Downey, both of Las Vegas, and Kyla Cannon of Reno.

Howard W. Cannon, 90, a Democratic senator from Nevada from 1959 to 1983 who played a key role in airline and trucking deregulation legislation in the 1970s and also helped send a Teamsters union president to prison for a bribery attempt, died of congestive heart failure March 5 at a Las Vegas hospice. He had Alzheimer's disease.

He became one of the Senate's senior members, as Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman and a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee.

He was a chief sponsor of legislation that provided hundreds of millions of dollars in airport construction projects and the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which ended decades of federal control over airlines.

He lost reelection in 1982, partly from the startling aftershocks of a bribery scandal in which he was not charged.

In a trial shortly before the election, then-Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams was accused of having offered Sen. Cannon select Las Vegas real estate owned by the union's pension fund if the senator would help defeat trucking deregulation legislation. Williams, a protegé of former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, was found guilty with four other co-defendants in the scam. He served three years of a 10-year sentence and died in 1989.

Sen. Cannon testified at the trial that he was neither offered a bribe nor had accepted one. But his reputation was tainted in the minds of many voters, and he lost his bid for reelection to Republican Jacob Chic Hecht, an obscure state senator. Hecht attacked Sen. Cannon as a tax-and-spend Democrat and got President Ronald Reagan to stump for him.

The senator was stunned when he lost by about 5,600 votes of about 235,000 votes cast. He had been convinced that his seniority would ensure his victory.

He retreated from public life, but for years did consulting work for aircraft manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman.

Howard Walter Cannon, a native of St. George, Utah, was a 1933 graduate of what is now Northern Arizona University and a 1937 graduate of the University of Arizona law school.

He served as an Army Air Forces pilot in Europe during World War II. During one battle in September 1944, a plane he was copiloting was shot down over the Netherlands, and he spent 42 days trying to return to Allied lines with the assistance of the Dutch underground.

At one point, he dressed as a Dutch farmer and wrapped bandages around his neck to avoid conversation that would give him away.

His decorations included the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and three awards of the Air Medal. He retired from the Air Force Reserve as a major general.

Returning to Las Vegas after the war, he practiced law and served four terms as Las Vegas city attorney.

He lost a 1956 bid for the U.S. House, but two years later handily defeated the Senate incumbent, George W. Malone, a Republican.

In a bruising 1964 race, he won by 48 votes of more than 134,000 cast during a campaign that pitted him against Republican Paul Laxalt. Sen. Cannon's opponents tried to link him to Bobby Baker, the Senate secretary and close Lyndon B. Johnson associate who was convicted of influence peddling. Johnson flew to Nevada to speak on behalf of Sen. Cannon.

He was a moderate at a time when many conservative Democrats were trying to filibuster the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. He voted to end the filibuster, a rare move by a Nevada senator.

A 1993 Las Vegas Review-Journal article said Nevada senators had long disdained voting against filibustering “because they wanted to have that option themselves if Congress ever tried to impose federal regulations on gaming.”

He was a former McLean resident.

Survivors include his wife; two children; a sister; and four grandchildren.

Nancy Cannon Downey, accompanied by her brother Alan Howard Cannon, places a flower on the casket of their father, four-term Nevada senator and World War II pilot Howard W. Cannon, during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery


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