Clyde L. Choate
|Clyde Lee Choate|
|Member of the
Illinois House of Representatives
from the 59th district
At large (1964-1966) 50th district (1947-1964)
January 1947 – January 1977
|Preceded by||Herbert L. Upchurch|
|Succeeded by||William L. Harris|
June 28, 1920|
West Frankfort, Illinois
|Died||October 5, 2001
|Spouse(s)||Mabel Madonna Ross (m. 1947-2001)|
||United States Army|
|Unit||601st Tank Destroyer Battalion|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Clyde Lee Choate (June 28, 1920 – October 5, 2001) was an American politician from Southern Illinois and a decorated soldier. From Anna, Illinois, Choate served thirty years in the Illinois House of Representatives. As a Sergeant in the United States Army during World War II, he was awarded the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for single-handedly destroying a German tank.
Choate was born in West Frankfort, Illinois, one of twelve children born to a coal miner. He and his family moved to Anna, Illinois where he worked as a farmer while attending school. He graduated from Anna-Jonesboro High School.
World War II
He entered the Army as a Private in World War II enlisting from Anna. He served 31 months overseas in the European Theatre. He took part in the invasion of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany as a Sergeant. He was cited for bravery in action on Anzio beachhead in Italy and twice in France. While in France, he refused a battlefield commission.
By October 25, 1944 was serving as a Staff Sergeant in Company C, 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion. On that day, near Bruyères in eastern France, his tank destroyer was hit and set on fire in an attack by German forces. He ordered his crew to abandon the destroyer and reached a position of relative safety, but then returned through hostile fire to the burning vehicle to make sure no one was trapped inside. Seeing a German tank overrunning American infantry soldiers, he single-handedly attacked and destroyed the tank. In a ceremony at the White House on August 23, 1945, President Harry S. Truman presented Choate with the Medal of Honor for his actions near Bruyères. He maintained his Medal of Honor was not his alone, but belonged to the entire 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion.
While serving, he was wounded in action and was awarded the Purple Heart, French Fourragere, Bronze Star Medal, Silver Star Medal, and Presidential Citation. He was honorably discharged in 1946. As a veteran, he was an active member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Illinois House of Representatives
At his Medal of Honor presentation ceremony, Choate shared his concerns about the coal industry in southern Illinois. In response, President Truman encouraged him to run for public office. In 1946, Choate was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives as one of three representatives from the 50th district succeeding fellow Democrat Herbert L. Upchurch. The 50th district included Alexander, Franklin, Pulaski, Union and Williamson counties in southwestern Illinois. Shortly after his election, he married Mabel Madonna Ross of Carbondale, Illinois on May 10, 1947. They had two daughters; Elizabeth Ellen and Madonna Kim.
The 1960 reapportionment process was stalled by partisan gridlock. Subsequently, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered an at large election for all 177 members of the Illinois House in 1964. Voters were given ballots three feet long. Choate was the Democratic downstate coordinator for the at-large election. After a 1965 Illinois Supreme Court Case to resolve the redistricting issue, Choate's home was drawn into the 59th district which consisted of the territory of the old 50th district (except Franklin County) and added Jackson, Gallatin, Johnson, Pope, Hardin, and Massac. He ran in the 59th district and was elected with Republicans C. L. McCormick and Gale R. Williams.
As a member of the Illinois House, he was a close ally of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Despite this, in 1969, he led a revolt of downstate Democrats against a plan to implement a 3% income tax instead of Choate's preferred plan of a 4% rate for corporations and a 2.5% rate for individuals. He served in a variety of party leadership positions including minority whip (1957-1960), 69th and 70th; majority whip (1961-1964), majority leader (1965-1966), minority whip (1967-1970) and minority leader (1971-1974). In 1972, he served as chairman of the Illinois delegation to 1972 Democratic National Convention.
In the 1974 elections, the Democrats won a majority in the Illinois House. Choate was Daley's choice to assume the role as Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. However, Governor Dan Walker strongly disliked Choate due to the latter's involvement in quashing his son-in-law's Democratic primary bid. The Governor supported Gerald A. Bradley of Bloomington. For the first few days no one in the field, which at various points in time included up to eleven Democrats and the Republican leader James R. Washburn, could get close to the 89 votes required to be elected Speaker. After 38 ballots, Daley and Walker finally chose longtime backbencher William A. Redmond as a compromise candidate. Redmond was only candidate neither could object to who had the experience to preside over the House. On the 39th ballot, the Daley and Walker factions coalesced around Redmond giving him 71 of the needed votes. Choate refused to drop out and, with a small group of Democrats, held out against Redmond as the Democratic compromise choice. Over a week after the election for Speaker began; newly elected Republican Lee A. Daniels crossed party lines to vote for Redmond. After Daniels vote, a weekend recess was called. On Monday, Daniels and a group of seven Republicans cast their votes for Redmond.
Post legislative life
After retiring from elective politics, he became director of external affairs for Southern Illinois University. He attended the May 28, 1999 unveiling of the Medal of Honor Memorial in Indianapolis, Indiana. He died at age 81 at a hospital in Carbondale, Illinois, from complications of congestive heart failure. He was buried at Anna Cemetery in his town of residence, Anna, Illinois.
In addition to the below American military honors, Choate was awarded the French Fourragère.
Medal of Honor citationStaff Sergeant Choate's official Medal of Honor citation reads: