DoD, Veterans Mourn U.S. Rep. Sonny Montgomery
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 12, 2006 The Defense Department, Department of Veterans Affairs and millions of servicemembers and veterans are mourning retired U.S. Rep. Gillespie "Sonny" Montgomery, who died today at 85 in Meridian, Miss., following a long illness.
Former Mississippi Congressman and decorated war veteran, G.V. Sonny Montgomery, center, waves as he is introduced, and applauded by his fellow recipients of the 2005 Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005 in the East Room. From left to right are, Paul Harvey, Montgomery, General Richard B. Myers and golf legend Jack Nicklaus. White House photo by Shealah Craighead
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
"With the passing on of Sonny Montgomery, America has lost a true patriot, and the men and women in uniform have lost one of their most passionate advocates," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a statement issued today.
"A decorated veteran of World War II -- where he won the Bronze Star for capturing a German machine gun nest -- as well as the Korean War, Sonny Montgomery brought his personal experience and expertise in military matters to bear in a lifetime of public service," Rumsfeld said.
The secretary called it a privilege to serve with Montgomery when he first joined the House of Representatives in the late 1960s. "Because of the way he treated everyone with grace and respect, Sonny would go on to become one of the most beloved and respected members of the Congress on both sides of the aisle," Rumsfeld noted.
Montgomery's outstanding legislative accomplishment, Rumsfeld said, was the Montgomery G.I Bill that bears his name and has "extended educational benefits to countless thousands of soldiers in the nation's all-volunteer service."
"The title of a recent biography of Sonny Montgomery put it well," Rumsfeld said. He truly was 'The Veteran's Champion.'"
Montgomery served for 13 years as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and was known as a champion of servicemembers and veterans. One of his biggest achievements was writing the modernized GI Bill that boosted recruiting for the all-volunteer force.
President Bush presented Montgomery the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November "for his service to our country and for his dedicated work to honor and improve the lives of the men and women who sacrifice for our liberty." The medal is the nation's highest civilian award.
The White House issued a statement by President Bush today, in which he praised the late lawmaker for his service to America's veterans.
"Laura and I and the entire Bush family are saddened by the death of a good friend and patriot, Sonny Montgomery," the president said. "Sonny Montgomery served during World War II and the Korean War, and he was a tireless advocate for America's veterans throughout his three decades in the House of Representatives. He sponsored the Montgomery GI Bill, which has helped make higher education and professional training accessible to millions of our veterans. In 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, in recognition of his lifetime of service to the United States. We send our condolences and prayers to the Montgomery family."
Today, Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson referred to Montgomery as "Mr. Veteran."
"He was one of America's strongest advocates for the men and women in uniform, and he was a dedicated statesman," Nicholson said in a statement released today.
"After nearly three decades on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, including 13 years as its chairman, Sonny left an indelible mark on the history of veterans and military services in America." Nicholson said. "His efforts to improve veterans' educational benefits reached a zenith in 1984 with what we now refer to as the Montgomery GI Bill of Rights.
"Sonny Montgomery once said, 'Patriotism is a pretty simple word, but also a beautiful word to most Americans,'" Nicholson said. "Sonny Montgomery exemplified patriotism, and he will be greatly missed."
Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, called Montgomery "the quintessential citizen-soldier who set the conditions for the success of the all-volunteer force." Within National Guard circles, he was known as "Mr. National Guard," and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard named its highest tribute for him, the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Eagle Award.
"The National Guard as an institution and individual Guardsmen past, present and future owe 'Sonny' Montgomery an enormous debt of gratitude for his lifetime of effort on our behalf," said retired Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Koper, president of the National Guard Association of the United States. "To us, he is more than a giant. He is, and forever will be, 'Mr. National Guard.'"
In addition to an education benefit and National Guard award, Montgomery has a long list of other military institutions named in his honor. Among them are the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., the Naval Reserve Training Center at Naval Air Station Meridian, and the Sonny Montgomery Airport at Forest, Miss. In addition, the Mississippi Air National Guard's C-17 Globemaster III transport plane is named "The Spirit of G.V. 'Sonny' Montgomery."
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.