Integrity, respect and honor. That’s Ike Skelton’s legacy.
Skelton, 81, died in Arlington, Va., on Monday. The Democrat represented the rural sprawling 4th District in Congress for 34 years, rising to lead the House Armed Services Committee. A fierce advocate for Americans in uniform, his compassion for the rank-and-file always matched his respect for the top brass.
Shortly after he left Congress in 2011, a letter writer to The Star described what many recall: “Just being in his presence made me feel patriotic and proud to be an American.”
His graciousness, attention to detail in military budgets, advocacy for war colleges and support for veterans built his reputation from small-town Lexington lawyer to well-known Capitol Hill negotiator. He stood out as a man willing to listen amid a hardening partisan divide. By 2010, a tea party storm forced him from office, but not from continued advocacy for all things military.
This year, President Barack Obama appointed him to the National World War I Centennial Commission, and his peers elected him chairman. He also relished his appointment to the American Battle Monuments Commission, which is in charge of U.S. military resting places overseas.
An avid protector of military bases in Missouri, Skelton was pragmatic on budget matters and supported trims to military budgets that made sense while maintaining key support for fighting men and women in uniform.
As a teenager, Skelton dreamed of entering West Point. But polio struck, leaving one arm unusable and the military out of reach. As an elected official, he went to battle politically in a suit rather than in uniform, accomplishing much to protect and provide for the military and its families.
He helped secure the future of Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster by convincing the Department of Defense to place its B-2 bombers there. Similarly, he helped secure Fort Leonard Wood by locating the Army Engineer, Chemical and Military Police Schools at the base, later expanding training there to all forces.
As Missouri says goodbye to a talented elected leader, current and future politicians should look to Skelton as a model for how a public servant best serves. Skelton’s quiet, constant, principled leadership reflected well on the state and nation. A humble patriot is gone.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.