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Maritime labor is mourning the loss of a congressional giant and great friend of the industry. Former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), a highly respected military expert, passed away on October 28. He was 81 years old.

“I became very friendly with Ike when I worked out of the Port of St. Louis,” recalled MTD President Michael Sacco, who served as the Seafarers Union vice president for the Great Lakes and rivers in St. Louis prior to becoming SIU president. “He was committed to preserving a strong U.S.-flag maritime industry. Given the respect he commanded on both sides on Capitol Hill when it came to anything relating to military preparedness, his voice carried a great deal of weight. He will be sorely missed.”

No matter what the cause—cargo preference, the Jones Act, port development—Skelton was on hand to push for policies that promoted a comprehensive maritime policy. Called by many as one of the most “astute military historians” ever to serve on Capitol Hill, he eventually chaired the influential House Armed Services Committee, during his 17 terms in Congress. (He was defeated for re-election in 2010.)

Like many a Democrat from the Show Me State, Skelton harbored a lifelong appreciation of former President Harry Truman, whom he met as a teenager. Fittingly, Truman’s widow Bess, who very rarely waded into local politics, gave him strong backing during his first run for Congress.

Such was his reputation on Capitol Hill that he was lauded by many elected officials from both parties at the time of his death. “No member of the Congress was more dedicated to America’s defense and those who defend us than Ike Skelton,” said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who, had served in the House with Skelton prior to being elected to the Senate. “He loved our country and its history and will be remembered for his contributions to both.”