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Historical Highlights

Representative Carl Vinson of Georgia

June 01, 1981
Representative Carl Vinson of Georgia Image courtesy of Library of Congress Featured in this image as a young man, Carl Vinson of Georgia entered the House of Represenatives at the age of 28. He retired in 1965, leaving the powerful chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, at the age of 81.
On this date, 97-year-old former Representative Carl Vinson of Georgia died at a hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. Vinson’s congressional career spanned a half a century and included longtime service as chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs and its successor, the Committee on Armed Services. A colorful character, the Georgia Congressman spoke with a thick southern accent and chewed tobacco during committee hearings. Vinson, who claimed never to have had one of his defense bills defeated, had several nicknames including “Swamp Fox,” for his ability to guide military-related legislation through the House, and “the Admiral,” for his central role expanding the Navy. During the Harry S. Truman administration, his name appeared on a short-list of candidates for Secretary of Defense. “Shucks,” Vinson demurred, “I’d rather go on running the Pentagon from up here.” Members of the House knew him simply as “Mr. Chairman,” and despite his reputation for grilling military leaders, he was respected for his courtly southern manner and his willingness to hear out junior Representatives. Born in 1883, Vinson attended the Georgia Military Academy in Milledgeville and law school at Mercer University in Macon. He returned home to practice law and earned a seat in the state house of representatives in 1909. In 1914, he won a special election to the 63rd Congress (1913–1915), where he remained for the next 25 congressional terms. In the fall of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Vinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When he finally retired at the end of the 88th Congress (1963–1965), he left Washington, D.C., without fanfare—departing inconspicuously on Christmas Day 1964 on a train to Georgia. He told the press, “my policy is to wear out, not rust out.” At the time of his retirement, Vinson was the longest serving Member in House history. He also earned the distinction of being the first living individual to have a U.S. Navy vessel—one of the first nuclear aircraft carriers—named in his honor.

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