Column by Sen. Trent Lott Filed 5/20/06 GCN
I was honored to join former President Bush, Barbara Bush and so many Mississippians in Meridian this week to say goodby to an American hero and a friend to all Mississippians – Sonny Montgomery.
I was asked to be the “service guide” for Sonny’s memorial service at Meridian’s Temple Theater, making opening remarks about Sonny and then introducing each speaker. Without question, it was one of the greatest privileges I’ve had during my 33 years of public service.
In the days prior to Sonny’s service, I reflected a lot about what made him so special. I tried to come up with a simple declaration of what made Sonny so respected and loved. That’s tough to do for an uncommon man who had so many endearing qualities and attributes. But I believe one element set the stage for Sonny’s success, forever setting him apart – character. Sonny had it in abundance. For countless folks, he set the standard for character.
Sonny cultivated his trademark character early, and it always shown through. As “Mr. Mississippi State” in the early 1940s, as a decorated combat soldier in World War II, as a businessman, member of the Mississippi Senate and finally during his 30 years in Congress, Sonny’s uncommon character was commonly noted and always present, even amid the dramatic and sometimes difficult changes taking place in Mississippi and throughout America.
That undisputed character is what gave Sonny the uncanny ability to get things done, even in the most rigorous arenas without being negative or mean spirited toward anyone. As I said during the celebration of his life, Sonny never took the low road or the shortcut. Sonny truly was “sunny.” He didn’t dwell in the dusk awaiting the sunset. He always looked toward the dawn and all the good he knew that America could and would accomplish.
He didn’t have children. But he treated our military men and women as his own children, nurturing them and taking care of their needs like no other. Though his name will for long be seen atop buildings, on streets and even on aircraft named for him, Sonny’s greatest legacy endures in the Montgomery GI Bill and the young men and women it has benefitted for more than 20 years.
In my Jackson office there is a picture of President Reagan signing this legislative masterpiece at the White House in 1984, with Sonny at his side. Together these two visionary leaders laid the foundation for an all-volunteer American military that is unquestionably the best in the world and today stands guard in the War on Terror.
Sonny and President Reagan knew that freedom wasn’t about bombs, planes, tanks and ships – but about people. President Reagan and Sonny believed that our national security is best protected by America’s best people. To attract the best, the Montgomery GI Bill was created to help America’s brightest young men and women get an education while serving our country.
It worked, and today these men and women form the backbone of freedom’s defense throughout the world, unrivaled and unmatched by any military force. They are in many ways Sonny’s lasting legacy to America. We can debate the War on Terror. We can doubt deployment policy. But there is no debate that because of Sonny Montgomery, our armed forces are competent and ready to perform.
Of course, I needn’t write about Sonny’s dedication to Mississippi and his amazing ability to serve so well the folks in his Congressional district. Mississippians knew Sonny. And we’ll remember him for many years to come. He was a great leader who rose above party politics and really belonged to all America. For Mississippians though, he’s more than a soldier, a statesman and a Congressman. To us he’ll always remain good old Sonny, a friend to us all.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email