Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Longtime Democratic Iowa congressman John Culver died at his home late Wednesday after a long illness, his family said. He was 86.
Culver, a Marine Corps veteran and Harvard football player, represented Iowa for 16 years in the House and Senate as what he called a "civil libertarian." He's perhaps best remembered for casting one of the only no votes against a 1967 bill to ban flag burning.
"I was convinced that, although most distasteful to me, the burning of the American flag was protected speech under the U.S. Constitution," Culver said once in a speech at Harvard University. "I voted a lonely 'no' and only 15 congressmen out of 435 shared my position on the final roll call."
The vote came when many were protesting the Vietnam War, and flag burning was later protected as free speech by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Culver was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1964. After serving 10 years in the House, he was elected to one term in the Senate.
His son, former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, called his father "a man of remarkable character."
"He lives his life thankful for the opportunity to serve, and he taught me the importance of service to others," Chet Culver said in a statement. "While we are saddened to say goodbye to our father, we have only gratitude for his long life and for the example he set. for us all."
In his obituary, the family said Culver was most proud of his reputation for "integrity and courage."
John Culver graduated with a degree in American government from Harvard University. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps infantry in the Philippines and attend Harvard Law School, later propelling him to the Linn County and Iowa state bar associations.
Several fellow politicians reacted to Culver's death.
Former President Bill Clinton said his thoughts and prayers are with Culver's family, friends and the people of Iowa.
"Sen. John Culver was a smart, principled, progressive, and tough public servant who represented his constituents with honor for 16 years," Clinton tweeted.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who defeated Culver in 1980, offered his condolences.
"He admirably served his country in the Marine Corps & in the House/Senate serving the [people] of Iowa," Grassley said. "He was a tough competitor in 80 election."
Culver is survived by his wife, five children, eight grandchildren and his sister. Culver will be buried in McGregor, Iowa.