Former Rep. Ike Skelton, D.-Mo., passed away Monday at age 81. Skelton died surrounded by family and friends at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va. Skelton was reported to have been admitted to the hospital with a serious cough a week earlier, although specifics on his cause of death have not been confirmed.
Skelton represented western and central Missouri for 34 years, with a reputation as an authority on military history. He rose to chairman of the Armed Services Committee before he was voted out of office in 2010. Though he was elected as a Democrat, Skelton's views on social issues such as abortion and gun control were conservative.
"He was beloved and respected by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Ike was a devoted advocate for our men and women in uniform," President Obama said at a press conference this morning.
Skelton was elected to the House in 1976. One of his greatest legacies was helping build up Missouri's two military bases. According to AP news, Skelton was able to get the Defense Department to place state-of-the-art B-2 bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, keeping the base relevant through the 80s.
"No member of the Congress was more dedicated to America's defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton," U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who served with Skelton in the House, told AP. "He loved our country and its history and will be remembered for his contributions to both."
Skelton's work in promoting the military and improving conditions for troops, veterans, and their families was so exemplary that he received the Sylvanus Thayer Award in 2012, from West Point, the prestigious military Academy.
In fact Skelton's greatest concern for the future of America was its ebbing attention to the military.
"I am fearful that a chasm will develop between those who protect our freedoms and those who are being protected," Skelton said in a Veterans Day Speech in 2010.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon told AP news that Skelton "embodied the true meaning of public service and will forever be remembered as a leader who left a legacy of greater prosperity and security for his district, our state and our nation."