George McGovern: Former US Senator from South Dakota Dead at 90

McGovern opposed the Vietnam War, ran for president against Nixon in 1972.

October 26, 2011, 3:13 PM

Oct. 21, 2012— -- George McGovern, longtime senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, died today at the age of 90, according to a statement from his family.

"At approximately 5:15 am this morning, our wonderful father, George McGovern passed away peacefully at the Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, SD, surrounded by our family and life-long friends.

We are blessed to know that our father lived a long, successful and productive life advocating for the hungry, being a progressive voice for millions and fighting for peace. He continued giving speeches, writing and advising all the way up to and past his 90th birthday, which he celebrated this summer," the statement said.

Services will be held in Sioux Falls according to the family.

Previously, McGovern's family issued a statement on Oct. 17 saying that the 90-year-old was "no longer responsive" in hospice care, the Associated Press reported.

In 2011, McGovern was hospitalized for fatigue in Sioux Falls after completing a series of lectures.

PHOTOS: George McGovern Through The Years

President Obama called McGovern a "statesman of great conscience and conviction."

"George McGovern dedicated his life to serving the country he loved. He signed up to fight in World War II, and became a decorated bomber pilot over the battlefields of Europe. When the people of South Dakota sent him to Washington, this hero of war became a champion for peace. And after his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger," Obama said in a statement.

The South Dakota native represented his state in Congress for more than 20 years, first as a member in the House of Representatives from 1957 to 1961, and then in the Senate from 1963 to 1981. But he is perhaps most well known for his loss to President Richard Nixon in the presidential election of 1972.

McGovern, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, was one of the first members of Congress to oppose U.S. involvement in the region. That stance became the backdrop of his 1972 campaign as Democratic presidential nominee.

McGovern, who had lost the Democratic nomination twice before, ran against President Nixon on the platform of withdrawing all U.S. troops from Vietnam.

"As one whose heart has ached for the past 10 years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day," McGovern promised at the Democratic National Convention in 1972. "And then let us resolve that never again will we send the precious young blood of this country to die trying to prop up a corrupt military dictatorship abroad."

The World War II veteran, however, lost by a record landslide -- winning only in the state of Massachusetts -- and failed to keep Nixon from a second term as president.

McGovern won several awards for his achievements outside Washington. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service as a B-24 fighter pilot during World War II. As an Air Force pilot, McGovern flew several missions over Europe, specifically Germany.

He also won the World Food Prize, along with former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., for his work on world hunger. He first became part of the cause in 1961 as director of the Food for Peace program. From 1998 to 2001, McGovern served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

McGovern and Dole established the George McGovern-Robert Dole International Food for Education and Nutrition Program in 2000 to provide meals to children in the United States and around the world.

On McGovern's passing, Dole said, "the world has lost a great American" and his "legacy has touched countless lives."

"Senator George McGovern lived his life by serving others. Today, 31 million children will participate in the school lunch program thanks to the tireless efforts of Senator McGovern – a humble, compassionate and caring man who always looked out for those in our society who needed a helping hand." Dole said in a statement. "His influence in fighting hunger extended far and wide, and our world is a better place because of his generous spirit."

McGovern moved to Florida in 2008 after the death of his wife, Eleanor. Although he retired from politics, McGovern stayed active, working on issues such as world hunger.

He traveled to Cuba and visited a medical clinic there. McGovern had close ties with Fidel Castro, whom he called a close friend, and was an outspoken opponent of the U.S. embargo against the Communist country.

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