March 03, 2004
Michel lauded for service
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Bob Michel, the Peorian who cultivated the art of consensus building when he served as House Republican leader, on Tuesday recalled his wartime introduction to politics as a weapon of division.
"Politics was the farthest thing from my mind when as a teen ager I was going to war," said Michel, among five former lawmakers and World War II veterans honored for their service to the nation.
But as he talked with German prisoners of war while fighting in Europe, Michel "really found out firsthand what the difference was between the Germans and their nationalist tendencies toward Hitler and the antis who were for communism," he said.
Michel, a decorated infantryman, joined former Sens. Bob Dole of Kansas, John Glenn of Ohio and George McGovern of South Dakota, and former Rep. Sam Gibbons of Florida, in the tribute from the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress. The $350-a-plate awards dinner drew more than 300 former lawmakers, lobbyists and others.
Michel served 38 years in Congress, including the last 14 as minority leader. He retired in 1995 and was succeeded by Newt Gingrich as GOP leader.
A longtime admiration for Michel's honesty and integrity brought Mike McMurphy, a Potomac, Md., businessman, to the awards dinner.
With people like Michel, he said, "there's never any doubt where they're coming from. What they say is what they mean," said McMurphy, who hoped to meet Michel for the first time at the dinner.
Michel, who celebrated his 81st birthday on Tuesday, said he was "floored" by the honor. A daughter attended the event.
Asked how his war experience shaped the kind of congressmen he was, Michel said it gave him a realistic understanding of the sacrifices involved in military action.
"I feel the anguish," he said, such as when reading about U.S. troops killed in Iraq. "It is so easy for the general public to think just another one or two people. For me, boy, that was a very, very precious life for anybody and their family."