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Achieve the Honorable

A Missouri Congressman's Journey from Warm Springs to Washington

Ike Skelton

Publication Year: 2013

Growing up during the Great Depression and World War II, Ike Skelton dreamed of joining the military. That dream was shattered when he contracted one of the most dreaded diseases of the era: polio. Far from abandoning hope, Skelton, after treatment at Warm Springs, Georgia, overcame his disability and went on to become a college athlete, a celebrated lawyer, a Missouri state senator, and a U.S. Congressman. Achieve the Honorable is the deeply personal tale of Ike Skelton’s determined journey from the small town of Lexington, Missouri, to Capitol Hill.

During his years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Skelton became known as a bipartisan negotiator and a champion of the Armed Services. Throughout the decades, he helped steer the nation through its most dangerous challenges, from Communism to terrorism; took a leading role in the reform of the Department of Defense; dedicated himself to fulfilling the interests of his constituents; and eventually rose to become chair of the House Armed Services Committee during such pivotal events as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to detailing Skelton’s political career and its accompanying challenges and triumphs, Achieve the Honorable provides inside glimpses into the lives of political titans like Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton. Along the way, we are treated to Skelton’s engaging humor and shrewd insight into twentieth- and twenty-first-century U.S. politics. 

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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p. 1-1

Jacket Flaps

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pp. 2-4

Title Page

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p. 5-5


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p. 6-6


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pp. 7-10


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pp. ix-x

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A Note

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pp. xi-14

The events of thirty-four years in Congress, much less those of a lifetime before and after, would take many volumes to properly tell. What follows are the highlights, those events and observations that burn brightest in memory. To anyone whose story I did not tell, or who hoped to see a particular subject covered...

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pp. xiii-18

My life, my work in public office, and indeed whatever success I have enjoyed through the years are attributable to the efforts of many other people. This is also true of this memoir. I want to take this opportunity to particularly acknowledge some people who have been especially important in helping me...

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A Wreck in Iraq

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pp. 1-3

Now, it’s no secret that through the years, congressmen have been found in a number of unusual positions. And that’s true of political positions as well as physical ones. But whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, or neither, and whatever you may think of our country, Washington, or the Congress, I think...

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pp. 4-6

Let me start with some context. Although everybody knows me as Ike, my full name is Isaac Newton Skelton IV, and yes, I’ve heard about every falling-apple joke there is. The Skeltons can track the family back to 1750, to a John Skelton in what is modern Page County, Virginia. We can’t go back further...

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A Sound from the Sky

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pp. 7-10

Lexington , Missouri , is home. Nestled atop a bluff along the Missouri River and surrounded by forests and farmland, Lexington is a town of stately homes with a commercial district along Main Street. By most measures, it’s a small town, although I don’t remember it ever lacking in any particular. We had...

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Polio and Warm Springs

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pp. 11-19

In my teens, I worked as a line boy at the Lexington Airport, right across the river in Ray County. Vernon Van Camp, the airport manager, was a tough taskmaster, and he seemed determined to teach me how to work hard. I was petrified, and I couldn’t do very much right. One day it was dark and cloudy...

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Finishing Third, and Winning

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pp. 20-24

When I returned from my first visit to Warm Springs in late October 1947, I enrolled as a junior at Lexington High School, with my dreams knocked more than slightly askew by polio. My long-held goal of attending West Point was no longer within reach and I honestly wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,...

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pp. 25-30

The lesson of quiet determination also came from my greatest hero, my father. He was sturdy in every way: respected as a man, as a lawyer, and as a public servant. Isaac Newton Skelton III could juggle many tasks, and he did them all so well because he brought considerable intellect to bear upon them....

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College Years

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pp. 31-36

Arriving as a junior in the fall of 1951, I pledged Sigma Chi, just like my father. My goal was to be Phi Beta Kappa, and I studied hard and achieved that goal in my senior year. My father teased me that it only took him three years to make Phi Beta Kappa and it took me four. He was actually one of what they...

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The Law, Dewey, and Gene

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pp. 37-42

When I campaigned for Lafayette County prosecuting attorney in 1956, I was the youngest person ever to try for the office. I was fortunate to be “Ike’s boy”; my father was very popular, and I was welcome in every home in town. Even the African-Americans in town, who were pretty solidly Republican in...

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pp. 43-46

Although I’d only won one election so far, politics were becoming a bigger part of my life. I was very nearly nominated for Congress in 1959, while serving as Lafayette County prosecutor. I was all of twenty-eight years old when the incumbent congressman, George Christopher from Butler, Missouri, died...

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Mr. Truman

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pp. 47-50

In the spring of 1962 I was working a part-time job as a special assistant under Tom Eagleton, Missouri’s attorney general, in which I got to brief and argue three cases a year before the Missouri Supreme Court. I had an office in the Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City, and Susie sometimes accompanied...

Gallery of Illustrations #1

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pp. 1-1-1-16

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Memorable Courtroom Moments

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pp. 51-52

In November 1967, Ronnie Melton, a Virginia resident and recent graduate of William and Mary then attending graduate school at the University of Georgia, drove along Interstate 70 in Missouri. He went into a grocery store in the small town of Emma, ripped the telephone from the wall, and robbed the...

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Back into Politics

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pp. 53-64

People call me a politician. I’ve never thought of myself that way, and it may surprise you to learn that many members of Congress (and people who get elected at all levels of government) don’t consider themselves politicians. We are public servants; our goal is to make government work for our fellow...

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Building a More Effective Military

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pp. 65-81

My early congressional service on committees on agriculture and small business served the Fourth District very well. In 1980, when I joined the Armed Services Committee, I was finally in a position to begin fulfilling my childhood dream of assisting in keeping America safe—and benefiting my...

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Missouri and the Military

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pp. 82-85

Throughout my tenure on the Armed Services Committee, while we were working to improve the nation’s defense, I was mindful of how Missouri could continue contributing to the effort. My home state is the birthplace or chosen home of famous military heroes, including Mexican War fighter...

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Into a New World

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pp. 86-102

One of the features I cherished in life as an attorney was learning. Lawyers are required to take continuing education to stay current on changes in the law as it evolves. Of course, in Congress, I was part of making those changes happen. But after ten years there, I wanted to update my skills and knowledge...

Gallery of Illustrations #2

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pp. 2-1-2-14

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Attack on America

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pp. 103-113

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was having breakfast with my longtime friend the federal judge Ortrie Smith and his wife, Kris, in the members’ dining room along with Jack Pollard, my chief of staff. During our breakfast one of my staff told me that Susie had called with news of an explosion...

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pp. 114-130

That wasn’t the only support I received. After Susie died, my colleagues Jo Ann Emerson, Diana DeGette, Carolyn Maloney, Ellen Tauscher, and Darlene Hooley took it upon themselves to form a sort of Ike Skelton Caucus, going out of their way to chat and look after me. It was very good of them, and did...

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Tuesday Tsunami of 2010

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pp. 131-139

I briefly considered not running for an eighteenth term, but with my unfinished work as Armed Services Committee chairman and the ongoing severe conflicts in the Middle East, I did not feel it was time to abandon my efforts to support our troops and our strategy. So I decided to run once again...

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One Last Veterans Day Salute

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pp. 140-146

I went off to bed on Election Night, tired, a bit sad, but comforted in another bit of knowledge that comes with experience: the sun will rise again. It did, of course, and I awoke surrounded by a loving family, and devoted friends started telephoning me before we poured the first cup of post-election coffee...

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Into the Future

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pp. 147-152

As President Franklin Roosevelt said in his undelivered speech of April 13, 1945, the United States has long been established as “a vital factor in international affairs.” This is in large part because we represent and defend the four essential freedoms enumerated by President Roosevelt—freedom of...

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pp. 153-202

On October 18, 2012, a beautiful autumn Thursday in New York, the West Point Corps of Cadets stood at attention on the Plain, the parade ground at West Point. There, accompanied by my family, friends, many former staff, and the West Point faculty, I reviewed the corps as it passed in formation. Then I joined...

Appendixes - Index

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pp. 155-183

Back Cover

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p. 232-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780809332847
E-ISBN-10: 0809332841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332830
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332833

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 54
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Skelton, Isaac Newton.
  • Legislators -- United States.
  • United States. Congress. House -- Biography.
  • Missouri -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
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