A Great American Friendship

Reprinted from The Paragould Daily Press

Photo Credit: The Meridian Star

Sunday, December 9,2018: One of George H.W. Bush’s closest friends was G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery.

The two met as freshman members of Congress. Bush was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, and Montgomery was elected to the U.S. House from Mississippi. The year was 1966.

They were both about the same age. Montgomery was born in 1920, Bush in 1924. Both were World War II veterans. Bush had been a naval aviator in the Pacific. Montgomery was in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II, and was active duty during the Korean War.

Bush was a family man. Montgomery was not.

After serving two terms in Congress, Bush lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in 1970, but the following year he would become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Richard Nixon, then chairman of the Republican National Committee. Under President Gerald Ford, Bush was chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China, and then spent about a year as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before President Jimmy Carter’s administration took over in 1977.

Bush ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1980, but dropped out in May of that year. He became Ronald Reagan’s running mate, and served as President Reagan’s vice president for eight years. Bush served one term as president (1989-1993).

Montgomery served 30 years in Congress. His greatest legacy is the Montgomery G.I. Bill. He also was a lead sponsor in establishing the Veterans Affairs cabinet-level position. When George H.W. Bush was elected president he even offered Montgomery the position of secretary of the department. Montgomery turned it down because he wanted to stay in Congress.

When Montgomery had a National Guard Armory named for him in Mississippi in 1981, Vice President Bush and his wife, Barbara, came to the dedication ceremony. The armory was adorned with gigantic letters bearing the congressman’s name. There’s a photograph of the three of them with the armory, and that huge name in the background. Bush wrote on the photo: “Dear Sonny — Memories of a great day, but can’t you get some bigger letters? George Bush.”

“When George Bush was president, I was al ways included in whatever social functions he and Barbara had at the White House,” Montgomery wrote in his book, “Sonny Montgomery: The Veteran’s Champion” (2003). “Sometimes the president and Barbara would meet me at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, which is across the street from the White House, at 8:00 a.m. for the service, and we would walk back to the White House and have breakfast.”

In a column published in The Clarion-Ledger this past week, Sid Salter wrote that at Montgomery’s funeral in Mississippi in 2006, an inconsolable Bush said: “One of the great joys of our days in the White House was the Sundays that Sonny would come over. Every president needs a friend to be alone and relax with. For me, that person was, and always will be, Sonny Montgomery.”

Both men received the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Montgomery in 2005 from President George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush in 2011 from President Barack Obama.

“Sonny Montgomery remains one of my closest personal friends,” George H.W. Bush wrote in the foreword to Sonny’s book. “While I served in Congress and after that in the Executive Branch of government, Sonny remained a close confidant, a man whose judgement I always trusted, a man whose friendship gave me comfort when the going got tough.”

Here’s the fun part — George H.W. Bush was a life-long Republican. Sonny Montgomery was a life-long Democrat. They opposed each other at times during their careers in public service, and they also worked together. What a great testament to each of them, and friendship, and America.

Steve Gillespie, Editor Of The Daily Press

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