All Henry Durham, 47, meant to do was speak the truth, and it cost him his job, his home, his friends. But now his stubborn honesty has won him an important award—and, in effect, final vindication.
In 1969, Durham, a $20,000-per-year production control supervisor with Lockheed Aircraft’s Marietta, Georgia division, complained to his superiors about mismanagement and deceptions which he believed were responsible for the huge cost overruns (more than $400 million) on the new C-5A military cargo plane. His reports were ignored, he says, and when he persisted, his job was abolished. He continued in a lesser capacity, then was transferred to the Chattanooga plant where, he claims, the abuses were just as bad. In 1971 he resigned from Lockheed, where he had worked 19 years, returned to Marietta, and continued his fight. He wrote to 86 congressmen, but received replies from only 16, “none offering more than sympathy.” Finally he gave his story to the press. The resulting articles stirred up a storm around him; he was threatening a huge company which employed 30,000 people, 40 percent of Marietta’s work force. There were threats on his life and family, and federal marshals were brought in to protect them.
Then, in the fall of 1971, he was called to testify before Senator William Proxmire’s Joint Economic Subcommittee. Armed with 20 pounds of documents, he made his charges—notably, that planes were missing thousands of interior parts, that untested materials had been used, that false reports had covered up abuses.
Senator Proxmire ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate. In December of 1972 the GAO issued its final report, substantiating some of Durham’s charges, while dismissing some of his harsher ones. Lockheed officials generally praised the report, saying that most of the C-5A’s earlier problems had already been overcome. Durham called the report a “whitewash.”
During the last three years he was pressing his case against Lockheed, Durham says, he was virtually blackballed by industry. He survived on odd jobs while his wife supported the family as a social worker. Now, however, Durham’s fortunes have taken a turn for the better. In April he found a job he likes, with a company which promotes better health services for the poor, although it has meant moving to Pennsylvania, and it pays less than his old Lockheed job. Perhaps most satisfying of all, the 98-year-old American Ethical Union, an organization of high-minded community leaders across the country, presented Durham its prestigious Elliott-Black Award. Although it does not bestow any cash, the citation was reward enough for Durham: “For his translation of the highest ethical and moral values into significant social actions in the public interest.”
Durham is a former marine and a professed southern political conservative who displays the American flag on his car window. Before the C-5A furore, he had thought of ethics mostly in terms of the Presbyterian church which the family attended and where his wife taught Sunday school. He does not consider himself either a hero or a martyr, and says mildly, yes, he would do it again. “I just want to get the word out to the American people,” he says, “that an honest man can go through all this, and can still get a good job after all.”