Texas Legends #12: Olin E. “Tiger” Teague

TEAGUE, Olin Earl | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives

World War II produced many heroes on the American side, and the most decorated was Audie Murphy (who starred as himself in a movie about him) and right behind him was Olin Earl “Tiger” Teague (1910-1981). Teague got his nickname not from the war but from his time in high school football. He had “three purple hearts, three silver stars, three bronze stars, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Army Commendation Ribbon, the Croix de Guerre with palm (France) and the Fourragere (France)” (Watkins). His war injuries caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Teague was able to capitalize on his service for his bid for Congress in 1946 and easily prevailed. His reasoning behind running he expressed, “I saw hundreds of bodies stacked up. I started thinking about what causes hell like that and I decided it was government. I wanted to do something about it” (The Washington Post). He proved, as might be expected, an advocate for the military, soldiers, and veterans. 

As a war hero, Tiger Teague was a leading and powerful voice against Mississippian John Rankin’s pension bill in 1949 for veterans of both world wars, which would have been so costly that it wouldn’t have permitted President Truman’s proposed expansion for Social Security. This seemed like part of the purpose of the proposal, as I noted in my post on Rankin.  He was the one to motion to kill Rankin’s bill for the session, which prevailed by a single vote. Upon his ascension to Veterans Committee chair in 1955, Teague proceeded to draft more legislation for veterans than any other representative had before and was chair until 1972. He was regarded as second to none in the efficiency with which he ran his committee and coupled his efficiency with a winning personality. Like most Texans, Teague didn’t sign the Southern Manifesto. During his time in office, he proposed numerous constitutional amendments, including the abolition of the electoral college, permitting representation for Washington D.C., and the Equal Rights Amendment. He voted against the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and quite a bit of it in the 1970s as well but, oddly enough, he voted against the 1978 Walker (R-Penn.) amendment to prohibit the use of racial quotas in public universities. Teague also was a Vietnam War hawk, but this wasn’t unusual for Southern Democrats. He played a key role in getting funding for the 1969 moon landing as chairman of the Manned Space Flight Subcommittee. Despite the Democratic Party moving in a more liberal direction by 1971, he was elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, ousting Illinois’ Dan Rostenkowski.

Although Teague championed veterans of World War II and the Korean War, he was accused of falling short on Vietnam veterans because many more were black, which he denied. Indeed, he did at times deny some of the larger requests veterans organizations made of him. In 1975, the insurgent freshmen Democrats were able to topple some prominent committee chairmen, but Teague was so popular as chair of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics that he wasn’t considered for replacement. That year, he hosted American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts for lunch after their joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, in which he served Lone Star beer and Wolf Brand chili. As Teague’s aide and future Congressman Chet Edwards noted, the fact that the Cosmonauts reported the food to be as good as champagne and caviar was a sign of the economic troubles of the USSR (Gately). As chair of the committee Teague was a major supporter of nuclear power, synthetic fuels, and NASA. By this time, however, his health was declining. Teague was a diabetic, suffered a stroke in 1975 that required him to use a wheelchair to enter the House and in 1977 the lower part of his left leg had to be amputated from an infection caused by lack of circulation from war wounds and diabetes. Despite his health setbacks he maintained a vigorous schedule, with one of his supporters commenting out of concern, “In the past year [1975-76] he’s been working himself to death—I mean that literal­ly” (Burka & Smith). However, Teague, reading the writing on the wall, didn’t run for reelection in 1978. Although he endorsed Chet Edwards to succeed him, it was Phil Gramm, a Democrat at the time, who won the nomination and the seat. Teague’s MC-Index lifetime score is a 67%, overall indicating moderate conservatism, with his least conservative period being the Eisenhower Administration and most being after the Johnson Administration. He didn’t live much longer in retirement, dying on January 23, 1981 of a heart attack and kidney failure. Upon his death, Gramm hailed Teague as “the father of the American space program” (The New York Times).

References

Burka, P. & Smith, G. (1976, May). The Best, the Worst, and the Fair-To-Middlin’. Texas Monthly.

Retrieved from

https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/the-best-the-worst-and-the-fair-to-middlin/

Ex.-Rep. Olin E. Teague of Texas Dies. (1981, January 24). The Washington Post.

Retrieved from

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1981/01/24/ex-rep-olin-e-teague-of-texas-dies/5f3941d7-ce49-4aa1-aceb-b05607d0eb94/

Gately, P.J. (2019, July 19). Central Texas congressman played key role in sending man to the Moon. KWTX.

Retrieved from

https://www.kwtx.com/content/news/Central-Texas-congressman-played-key-role-in-sending-man-to-the-Moon-512961711.html

House Kills Veteran Pension. (1949, March 25). The Michigan Daily.

Retrieved from

https://digital.bentley.umich.edu/midaily/mdp.39015071756253/271

Olin E. Teague; Texan in House Over 3 Decades. (1981, January 24). The New York Times.

Retrieved from

To Amend H.R. 12929 By Prohibiting Use of Funds to Issue or Enforce Any Ratio, Quota, or Other Admissions or Hiring Formula Related to Race, Creed, Color, National Origin, or Sex. Govtrack.

Retrieved from

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/95-1978/h1089

Watkins, M. Teague, Olin Earl [Tiger]. Handbook of Texas.

Retrieved from

https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/teague-olin-earl-tiger

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