Central Texas congressman played key role in sending man to the Moon

Former U.S. Rep. Olin Earl "Tiger" Teague. (File)
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BRYAN, Tex. (KBTX)- A man who represented Central Texas in the U.S. Congress 50 years ago played a critical role in the success of the celebrated 1969 landing on the Moon.

The late U.S. Rep. Olin Earl "Tiger" Teague, who represented the 6th Texas Congressional District, served as the first chairman of the Manned Space Flight Subcommittee, part of what is now the Committee on Science and Aeronautics, of the U.S. House of Representatives and in that capacity oversaw NASA's successful efforts to place a man on the Moon.

It was money authorized by his committee to Apollo programs that eventually sent astronauts to the Moon that funded NASA and the race to the Moon that is celebrated this weekend on its 50th anniversary.

So significant was Teague's contribution that when NASA built the Johnson Spaceflight Center, designers set aside a room later named for Teague.

"What is interesting is that Teague was an animal husbandry major from a small town, but he became chairman of the House Science Committee," said former U.S. Rep Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who served on Teague’s staff for three years before running his own race for Congress.

"I can say for a fact that he played a key role in putting a man on the Moon and saving the Space Shuttle program in the 1970's when it was at risk of being terminated after public excitement had died down regarding NASA and the Apollo program," Edwards said.

Lone Star beer and Wolf Brand Chili

Teague foresaw a global space effort, Edwards said, and in the wake of the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), July 15-24, 1975, during which both Soviet and American pilots conducted experiments on a space craft that was designed, built and flown by participants from both countries.

The historic mission, the final flight of the Apollo program, lasted nine days and seven hours, during which Apollo and Soyuz crews conducted a variety of experiments, then after separation, Apollo remained in space an additional 06 days and Soyuz returned to Earth approximately 30 hours after separation.

It marked the first spaceflight in which spacecraft from different nations docked in space as the U.S. Apollo spacecraft carrying a crew of three docked with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with its crew of two.

After the crews were back on Earth, Edwards said, "Teague had the American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts for lunch together in his D.C. congressional office in the Sam Rayburn Building.

"He served them Lone Star beer and Wolf Brand Chili from Corsicana," Edwards recalled.

"It's the first time I realized the degree of economic problems in the Soviet Union," Edwards said, "because the cosmonauts thought the food and drink was really good, said it was as good as caviar and fine champagne."

Teague retired in 1979 but lived in the Washington, D.C. area until his death at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md., on Jan. 23, 1981.

He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery just a few feet from his hero and ultimate World War II Commander, General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, Edwards said.

A “veteran’s veteran

Teague was "the ultimate veteran's veteran," Edwards said.

After serving on Teague's Washington staff, Edwards was defeated when he ran for Teague’s seat by then Democrat Phil Gramm.

Edwards later moved to Waco and was elected to represent the 11th Congressional District when Congressman and Marlin businessman Marvin Leath retired after serving from January 1979 to January1991.

"'Tiger' Teague was my mentor," Edwards said, "and what I learned from him completely changed the course of my life."

Edwards remembered the first time he walked into Teague's office in 1974, where he saw under a wall clock a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet that read: "This above all, to thine own self be true and then it follows as the night the day, thou can'st not be false to any other man," Pelonius' advice to his son, Laertes.

"Teague lived that value on the battlefield and in Congress, and it was why a conservative southerner was elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the 4th ranking position in the House, and why he was so respected by his colleagues, Edwards said.

Teague, whose nickname "Tiger" was a holdover from his high school football days in Mena, Ark., was born in Woodward, Okla., in 1910 and moved to Texas when he enrolled in 1932 at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, in College Station, where he worked at the U.S. Post Office to pay his way through school.

He made a friend at Aggieland in Earl Rudder, who was in Teague's graduating class and in the same unit in World War II, commanding the battalion that stormed onto Utah Beach next to Teague's battalion on D-Day.

The two were lifelong friends.

Teague's love for veterans came naturally as he served in both the Arkansas National Guard and the Officer's Reserve Corps, and then was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in October 1940.

Eventually in Europe he would command the First Battalion, 314th Infantry in the 79th Division and landed in Normandy, at Utah Beach, on D-Day-plus-8 in 1944.

In the following six months of combat he rose to become the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II behind only the famed Audie Murphy.

Teague "was quickly into combat in the Cotentin Peninsula in Normandy, with orders to capture the coastal city of Cherbourg," Teague's son John O. "Jack" Teague, said.

Jack Teague today lives in Bryan and is himself a decorated retired U.S. Army Colonel with service in Viet Nam.

Teague's unit was "in combat in France for six straight months prior to 16 December 1944 when, on the eve of the first day of the so-called Battle of the Bulge, (my father) received his almost fatal (third combat) wound," Jack Teague recalled.

"His battalion was ordered to breach the Siegfried Line the next day, so he went on a patrol into enemy territory to reconnoiter the best approach for his men," Jack Teague remembered.

"About 500 yards in, he was hit by a mortar or artillery shell which took out his left ankle and nearly severed his foot," but "He made a tourniquet of his right shoe lace and crawled back to his outfit for evacuation to an aid station," Jack Teague said.

The elder Teague's list of decorations and citations includes: the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Silver Star First Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart First Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart Second Oak Leaf Cluster, Silver Star Second Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant, Bronze Star Medal Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

He also was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars, American Defense Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Emblem, American Campaign Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Croix de Guerre with Palm and French Fourragere.

Notably Jack Teague holds a Silver Star awarded for gallantry during his service in Viet Nam.

"There aren't very many father-and-son duos who hold Silver Stars," Edwards said.

Teague was discharged from the Army in September 1946 with the rank of colonel.

An advocate for veterans

Elected that same year as a Democrat to the Seventy-ninth Congress, in a special election called to fill a vacancy created when Congressman Luther A. Johnson resigned, Teague was reelected to 16 succeeding Congresses and served until December 1978.

Over his years in Washington, D.C., Teague served as chairman, Select Committee on Education, Training, and Loan Programs of World War II Veterans (Eighty-first and Eighty-second Congresses), Committee on Veterans' Affairs (Eighty-fourth through Ninety-second Congresses), Committee on Science and Astronautics (Ninety-third Congress), Committee on Science and Technology (Ninety-fourth and Ninety-fifth Congresses), U.S. House of Representatives archives show.

While Teague's dedication and contribution to space flight were significant, his work on behalf of veterans continues to benefit those who served across the country, at places like the Olin E. Teague Veteran's Center in Temple.

The center was named in 1979 for Teague, who had served as Chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs in the United States House of Representatives for 18 years.

During his years as chairman the committee accomplished completion of several issues that veterans benefit from today, including saving and expanding the GI Bill in 1951 which had been scheduled to expire.

Today professionals there provide a complete list of benefits for veterans from health care to hospital and nursing home care to out-patient services.

The center began its life on June 16, 1942 as the McCloskey General Hospital, named for Maj. James A. McCloskey, who was killed on Bataan on March 26, 1942, and was the first regular United States Army doctor to lose his life in World War II.

The VA webpage says: "The hospital was one of the army's largest general hospitals and was outstanding as a center for orthopedic cases, amputations, and neurosurgery.

"It provided expert care and treatment for all military personnel and had many specialists on its staff.

"The reconditioning of sick and injured soldiers who did not need further hospital care was carried on at McCloskey Annex, Waco," the history on the webpage says.

Teague, himself, eventually spent two years in the McCloskey VA hospital in Temple and doctors there were able to save his badly damaged foot, Jack Teague said.

The surgery left Teague "a leg three-inches shorter (than the other) and minus an ankle for the remainder of his life," Jack Teague said.

Peak admission at the hospital reached more than 5,000.

The VA took control of the hospital in May 1946 and it was modified into a general medical and surgical center.

"The two main hospital buildings were modernized and dedicated in 1967," and "In 1979 the McCloskey Veterans Administration Center was renamed in honor of Olin E. Teague."

A 120-bed nursing home care unit opened in 1981, and 1986 saw the completion of a $25 million clinical expansion project, then a new domiciliary was completed in 1990, and in January 1991 a satellite outpatient clinic opened in Austin.

A shouting match with a president

One veteran's issue got fiery when Teague and President Lyndon B. Johnson crossed horns on a Dallas veteran's hospital air conditioner.

"Teague and President Johnson had a phone call shouting match over Teague wanting money to air-condition the Dallas VA hospital," Edwards recalled.

"Teague hung up on Johnson, and then turned to his staff assistant, Audrey Lockett and said, 'Audrey, I really shouldn't talk to the president of the United States that way.'"

In 1952 Teague and his wife took a trip back to France, to the town of Hagenah, where he was able to locate the exact tree he sheltered behind when he was wounded," Jack Teague recalled.

"I don't mind admitting I'm just more than a little proud of my father." Jack Teague said, "He was the epitome of a soldier, statesman and knightly gentleman."

Edwards spoke highly of his mentor, too.

"He was a truly humble man who made historic contributions to our country," … and on the Moon, he said.