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Sonny Montgomery
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Prentiss Walker
Succeeded by Chip Pickering
Personal details
Born (1920-08-05)August 5, 1920
Meridian, Mississippi
Died May 12, 2006(2006-05-12) (aged 85)
Meridian, Mississippi
Political party Democratic

Congressman Sonny Montgomery (second from left) receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Gillespie V. "Sonny" Montgomery (August 5, 1920 – May 12, 2006) was an American politician from Mississippi who served in the U.S. House of Representatives 1967–1997. He was also retired Major general of the Mississippi National Guard, who saw service during World War II.

Early life[]

Born in Meridian, Mississippi, he graduated from Mississippi State University in Starkville in 1943 and was a member of the Beta Tau chapter of Kappa Alpha Order. [1] He served in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant during World War II and the Korean War. He retired from the Mississippi National Guard as a Major General in 1980.

For his military service, Montgomery received the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.

U.S. House of Representatives[]

Committee assignments[]

  • Chairman, House Veterans' Affairs Committee


Montgomery represented part of Meridian in the Mississippi House of Representatives between 1956 and 1966. He was elected to Congress from what was then the 4th District in 1966 after Prentiss Walker, the first Republican elected to either house of Congress from Mississippi since Reconstruction, gave up the seat after only one term to run for the United States Senate. He was reelected 14 times. His district was renumbered as the 3rd District after the 1970 census. Montgomery was one of the more conservative Democrats in the House. Most notably, he was known for being somewhat more "hawkish" than other members of his party.[2] He was very popular in his district, usually winning reelection by some of the highest margins in the country. Although his district was already turning Republican at the national level, Montgomery usually faced "sacrificial lamb" opponents on the few times the Republicans even put up any opposition at all. He even ran unopposed from 1970 to 1974, in 1980 and from 1984 to 1990. On four of those occasions—1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988—Montgomery ran unopposed even as the Republican presidential candidate carried the district in a landslide. Nonetheless, it was taken for granted that he would be succeeded by a Republican once he retired.


He was the author of the G.I. Bill of Rights that gives members of the service money to pay for college and was a lead sponsor in establishing the Veterans Affairs cabinet level position. Montgomery gave a speech on the House floor in April 1975 in which he spoke against foreign aid to South Vietnam and said, "The South Vietnamese can blame only themselves for their present situation."[2]

Montgomery's greatest legislative victory was the enactment of the bill that bears his name: the Montgomery GI Bill . In 1981, he came to the forefront to lead the fight for passage of a new G.I. Bill. As a World War Il veteran, he believed that the country should provide educational benefits to its service members and that the combination of military service and a college degree would make these individuals valuable assets to the country. He also wanted to reverse the Department of Defense's declining recruitment efforts, which had dropped sharply in the 1980s, and improve the overall quality of the volunteers. Nearly half of those recruited during that time lacked high-school diplomas and the basic skills needed in a modern military. Congressman Montgomery saw that educational shortfall as a direct threat to America's military readiness and national security.[3]

As Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, Montgomery led opposition to the Kerry-Daschle bill (Agent Orange Disabilities Act of 1987, S.1787) that would have required the VA to begin compensating veterans who contracted non-Hodgkins lymphoma and lung cancer a presumed service-connected disease. Montgomery asserted that "further studies were needed to prove a connection between various diseases and Agent Orange before the government should be held liable for disability benefits" despite several such JAMA published studies by the National Cancer Institute and the VA and one by the New Jersey Agent Orange Commission.[4] Subsequent scientific studies made connections between Agent Orange and Vietnam Veterans illnesses and the increased birth defects of their children. In 1991 Montgomery stood behind president George Bush at the signing of the Agent Orange Act. He had opposed a similar bill the previous year. After years of opposing Vietnam Veterans receiving disability for exposure to Agent Orange, he now appeared as their champion.[5] In the same year he authored the Montgomery Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1987, which effectively transferred control of the National Guard away from the states and to the Department of Defense by prohibiting state governors to withhold National Guard forces.

On September 13, 1988, Montgomery became the first congressman to lead the U.S. House in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as a permanent part of its daily and morning business operations.[6] The day prior to his death, Congressman Gene Taylor introduced an amendment to a House Defense Appropriations Bill to rename the bill the Sonny Montgomery National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. Following his death, James F. Webb Funeral Home in Meridian, Mississippi performed the funeral services. President George W. Bush ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half staff.[7] In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives canceled non-suspension votes on the day of his funeral. Montgomery was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Meridian, Mississippi.

He was a delegate to Democratic National Convention from Mississippi in 1996. On November 10, 2005, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest American civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. [3]


A number of public projects have been named in his honor, including:

  • A statue of Montgomery on the campus of Mississippi State University where he was Student Association President for the 1942–43 school year. A duplicate statue is located at the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum at Camp Shelby alongside Congressman Montgomery's personal effects from his military service in the Second World War and National Guard.
  • The VA Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi
  • The G. V. Montgomery Lock on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway
  • The G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery Naval Reserve Center at NAS Meridian in Meridian, Mississippi
  • The G. V. Montgomery Airport in Forest, Mississippi
  • A Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III was named “The Spirit of G.V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery.” Montgomery became the third person in the United States to have a military fleet named in his honor.
  • The G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Center for America's Veterans at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi.


  1. Montgomery, Sonny; Michael B. Ballard, Craig S. Piper (2003). "The Early Years". Sonny Montgomery- The Veteran's Champion. The University Press of Mississippi. p. 3. ISBN 1-57806-554-2. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 307. ISBN 0-465-04195-7. 
  3. "Mr. Veteran": Congressman G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery will retire soon, but his legacy to veterans will live on". Paraplegia News. 20 Sep, 2009.>
  4. Nicosia, Gerald (2001),Home to War, Crown, p590 ISBN 0-8129-9103-6
  5. Nicosia, Gerald (2001), Home to War, Crown, p612 ISBN 0-8129-9103-6
  6. [1]
  7. [2]

External links[]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Prentiss Walker
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Thad Cochran
Preceded by
Charles H. Griffin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Chip Pickering
Political offices
Preceded by
Ray Roberts
Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Bob Stump

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