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CLYDE LEE CHOATE
Downstate legislator, World War II hero
By Rudolph Bush Tribune staff reporter
Clyde Lee Choate, 81, a 30-year member of the Illinois General Assembly who received the Medal of Honor in World War II, died after a long illness Friday, Oct. 5, in Memorial Hospital, Carbondale.
One of 12 children born into a poor Illinois coal-mining family, Mr. Choate grew up to become a war hero, a staunch Democrat and one of the state's most powerful legislators.
Born in West Frankfort, Mr. Choate was raised in Anna, and, apart from his time in the war and his trips to Springfield, he lived there all his life.
In the early days of World War II, Mr. Choate joined the Army as a private and rose to the rank of staff sergeant, said his friend Ted Lechowicz, a member of the Cook County Board and a former state legislator who served with Choate in the House of Representatives.
The defining moment of his military service, and much of his life, came on Oct. 25, 1944, in Bruyeres, France, near the Vosges Mountains.
That day, Mr. Choate's company came under attack from German infantry supported by a tank, Lechowicz said.
Mr. Choate ordered his men to retreat but returned to the battle himself and single-handedly destroyed the tank, preventing a German advance.
For that action and other displays of bravery, Mr. Choate received the Medal of Honor.
At the presentation ceremony, President Harry Truman suggested that Mr. Choate run for office after the young veteran expressed concerns about the coal industry in southern Illinois, Lechowicz said.
In 1946 he ran for office for the first time, winning the house seat from Union County that he would occupy for 30 years until his retirement in 1976.
In 1947 Mr. Choate married his wife, Madonna, who still lives in their home in Anna.
Over the years, he served as both majority and minority leader of the General Assembly.
Much of his success came from his kind, down-to-earth personality and reputation for honesty, Lechowicz said.
"He was a person that kept his word," Lechowicz said. "If he told you something, it was carefully researched, and he didn't warm it to the mood of the general public."
Though a close ally of Mayor Richard J. Daley, Mr. Choate was known to oppose the mayor's agenda if it didn't fit his conscience.
In 1969 he led a downstate Democrats' revolt against a Daley plan to establish an across-the-board state income tax of 3 percent. Mr. Choate insisted that corporations pay a higher rate of 4 percent and individual rates be set at 2 1/2 percent.
"He would stand on his own two feet; he was never averse to that. But he loved Mayor Daley and thought he was a great mayor," former U.S. Rep. Glenn Poshard said.
Poshard, vice chancellor for academics at Southern Illinois University, said that building up that institution was one of Mr. Choate's highest priorities.
Besides his wife, Mr. Choate is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth Wood and Kim Hughey, and two grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday in First Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Anna.
© 2001, by Chicago Tribune
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