|Member of the |
U.S. House of Representatives
January 3, 1967 - January 3, 1997
|Constituency||4th district (1967-1973)|
3rd district (1973-1997)
|Chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee|
January 3, 1981 - January 3, 1995
|Member of the Mississippi State Senate|
Gillespie V. Montgomery
August 5, 1920
Meridian, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||May 12, 2006 (aged 85)|
Meridian, Mississippi, U.S.
|Education||Mississippi State University (BA)|
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1943-1980|
|Unit||Mississippi Army National Guard|
|Battles/wars||World War II |
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 from 1967 to 1997. He was also a retired major general of the Mississippi National Guard who served during World War II.
Born in Meridian, Mississippi to Emily Jones and Gillespie Montgomery, Montgomery graduated from McCallie School and Mississippi State University in Starkville in 1943. While in college, Montgomery joined the Beta Tau chapter of Kappa Alpha Order.
A 1943 Reserve Officers' Training Corps graduate, Gillespie was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He served with the 12th Armored Division in Europe during World War II. He served on active duty again during Korean War, this time as a member of the 31st Infantry Division. Montgomery was a member of the Mississippi Army National Guard until 1980, and retired as a major general. For his military service, Montgomery received the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with "V" for Valor device, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Before running for Congress, he owned his own insurance company, the Montgomery Insurance Agency. In addition, he served as vice president of the Greater Mississippi Life Insurance Company of Meridian, Mississippi.
Montgomery represented part of Meridian in the Mississippi State Senate between 1956 and 1966. He was elected to Congress from what was then the 4th District in 1966. Prentiss Walker, the first Republican elected to either house of Congress from Mississippi since Reconstruction, had given up the seat after one term to run for the United States Senate against James O. Eastland.
Montgomery defeated Lewis McAllister, also of Meridian, who had been the first Republican elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives since Reconstruction. Walker ran again for the seat in 1968 but lost to Montgomery, who received 70 percent of the vote. The latter was re-elected a total of fourteen times from the majority-white district, serving for thirty years until 1997. His district was renumbered as the 3rd District after the 1970 census, when Mississippi lost a district in redistricting
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. He was very popular in his district, usually winning reelection by some of the highest margins in the country. Although the district's voters were increasingly willing to vote Republican at the national level (it has only supported the official Democratic candidate for president once since 1956), at the local level Montgomery usually faced "sacrificial lamb" opponents on the few occasions he faced any Republican opposition at all. Montgomery ran unopposed from 1970 to 1974, in 1980, and from 1984 to 1990. In four elections--1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988--Montgomery ran unopposed even as the Republican presidential candidate carried the district in a landslide. Observers assumed that Montgomery would be succeeded by a Republican after he retired, given the crossover of conservative white voters from the Democratic Party to the GOP in the second half of the 20th century. As it turned out, when Montgomery retired in 1996, the district was taken by Republican Chip Pickering in a landslide. The Democrats have only put up a candidate in the district four times since then, and have only won more than 35 percent of the vote once.
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."
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.
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-Hodgkin's 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. 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 H.W. 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. 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 from withholding 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. 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. 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.  Montgomery had played paddleball with Bush's father, George H. W. Bush.
A number of public projects have been named in his honor, including:
Dad loved to play paddleball, a fast-moving game that requires good hand-eye coordination. One of his favorite playing partners was Congressman Sonny Montgomery, a Democrat from Mississippi.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 4th congressional district
Charles H. Griffin
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 3rd congressional district
| Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee