By Michael NorrisFebruary 16, 2011
The military said goodbye to a longtime friend Feb. 14 as the U.S. armed forces provided a farewell review for Congressman Ike Skelton at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Conmy Hall hosted by Secretary of the Army John McHugh. Skelton, who represented Missouri for 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, lost his congressional seat in the 2010 election.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, McHugh and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James E. Cartwright provided testimonials to Skelton at the farewell review, tracing the arc of the congressman's career. Also in attendance were members of Missouri's congressional delegation, Skelton's family members and other well wishers.
The vice chairman spoke of Skelton's contributions to national security and the men and women of the armed forces. "We know he loves America's military," Cartwright said, making eye contact with the congressman, "and the American military loves you."
Cartwright described how Skelton was instrumental in enactment of the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which strengthened "civilian control of the military and transformed service rivalries." Cartwright said Skelton was a proponent of professional military education through a panel he headed and "a steadfast supporter of National Defense University."
Skelton has served the interests of troops, whether its "Whiteman, Bethesda or Iraq," Cartwright said, alluding to the Air Force base in the congressman's district, the wounded warriors recovering at the Maryland Naval hospital or military personnel deployed in the Middle East.
The vice chairman concluded by saying Skelton provided the military "the best tools to execute the mission," adding "And you didn't do it for the recognition or money, you did like a Soldier -- for the duty."
McHugh, who referred to himself as a "recovering politician" after having served 18 years in Congress before becoming Army secretary, called Skelton a colleague and friend he looked up to during his tenure in the House.
McHugh said members of Congress sometimes ask themselves if the legislative actions they take really make a difference. "Now, on the other side of the Potomac, I see the breadth and depth of that impact," he said.
The Army secretary praised the "true bipartisanship" of the House Armed Services Committee that Skelton headed. "Their guiding political principle is what's best for our nation's defense," he said.
"During the time I served with Ike there was never a need to turn down the rhetoric," McHugh explained, "because it was never turned on."
McHugh quoted President Harry Truman, a fellow Missourian and friend of the Skelton family: "Do your duty and history will do you justice."
"There's no question that history will and should do Ike Skelton justice," McHugh concluded.
Gates recalled appearing before Congress prior to being sworn in as Army secretary in 2007. "[Skelton's] questions were tough, sometimes pointed but always fair," he said.
Gates said Skelton "values hard work over posturing and bluster" and that the congressman "long ago took his place in history as one of the great legislators."
The secretary of defense called Goldwater-Nichols the "hallmark" of Skelton's career. Whether fighting for better housing or improved medical treatment for wounded warriors, Skelton "gave the military his highest priority," Gates said. "Your legacy will be felt for years and decades to come."
Skelton took the podium on the floor of Conmy Hall to a standing ovation. He thanked the speakers for their generous praise. "If my mother had been here she would have believed every word," he said. "And my father would have felt abused."
"Those who wear the uniform for the United States have always been my heroes," the congressman said. "Being the chairman of the Armed Services Committee has been the greatest honor of my life. To provide for the finest military in the world was a distinct honor."
"Gratitude is the greatest of virtues," Skelton said, quoting Cicero. "I want to express my gratitude to you." America's military personnel "are national treasures whose sacrifices can never be taken for granted."
"With affection and farewell, I thank you. God bless," he said.
The ceremony ended with honor guards from the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard marching in formation past the reviewing stand in honor of Skelton, with The U.S. Army Band playing each service song and top military leaders lining up shoulder-to-shoulder with the retiring congressman.