Former longtime Missouri congressman Ike Skelton was remembered Monday as one of the military's "most trusted civilians" and one of politics' most civil statesmen as hundreds gathered to mourn his death.
The crowd at Skelton's funeral in his rural Missouri hometown included numerous military leaders and elected officials from both Missouri and Washington, highlighting the mark he left both on the nation's Armed Forces and the people he represented.
Skelton died a week ago of complications from pneumonia. He was 81.
Skelton, who was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, served in the U.S. House for 34 years before losing re-election in 2010. He built a reputation as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, an astute military historian and a staunch advocate of the Armed Forces.
"He inarguably became one of the most trusted civilians by the military in this country," said Missouri congressman Emanuel Cleaver, a Methodist pastor from Kansas City, who delivered the remarks at Skelton's funeral.
Yet Skelton remained humble, personable and approachable even as he gained in political power and Congress became increasingly polarized, Cleaver said.
"He was one of the last statesmen of Congress — Ike wrote the book on civility and political decorum," Cleaver said.
Growing up during World War II, Skelton longed to serve in the Army. But he was stricken by polio at age 14 and permanently lost the use of his left arm.
He instead followed his father's path by becoming an attorney, then entered politics. Skelton served as a local prosecutor and Missouri state senator before winning election to the U.S. House in 1976. He never lost an election until 2010, when Republican Vicky Hartzler unseated him.