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By Ryan Pickrell
Former House Republican leader Robert H. Michel passed away after decades of dedicated public service.
Michel, a native of Peoria, Ga., was the longest-serving minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and a distinguished veteran of the World War II. After 38 years in public service, he died Friday at the age of 93.
During World War II, Michel fought in numerous fierce battles, including the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. At the young age of 19, he joined up with the 39th Infantry Regiment. He served in England, France, Belgium, and Germany from February 1943 to January 1946.
During the course of his service, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
After going through basic training in the U.S., he joined a veteran combat unit that had fought in North Africa and Sicily. He fought through many battles of the European campaign. During the Battle of the Bulge, he got caught in the open. A German gunner opened fire, hitting Michel in the right arm and leg. Fortunately for Michel, the German soldier’s weapon malfunctioned. “If his gun hadn’t jammed, he was in a position to saw me right in half,” Michel told Peoria Magazine.
He commented that he had not been wounded, he would have likely been sent to the Pacific theater to fight against the Japanese.
“I tell you, when I go back to Peoria High School and see that list of the fellas who didn’t [come home] … I was just floored by the number of young men in my class and right around that time who never came back,” he told reporters.
After returning home, Michel went into public service.
Those who closely worked with him in Congress said that Michel never used rhetoric related to war because “he knew warfare first hand.”
“That is the reason he never used the macho phrases like ‘warfare’ and ‘take no prisoners’ when discussing politics with his staff. To Bob, the harsh, personal rhetoric of ideological warfare had no place in his office, no place in the House, and no place in American politics,” Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill) said of his colleague at a 2003 Congressional Distinguished Service Award ceremony.
“What a name and legacy it is. What a life well-lived by this great and gracious man. Today the members of the House—past and present—mourn with the family and friends of our former colleague and leader,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday in response to Michel’s passing.
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