Mississippi Congressman and Brigadier General G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery

Mississippi Congressman & Brigadier General
G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery

Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomerywas born in Meridian on Aug. 5, 1920. He was educated in the Meridian Public Schools, The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tenn., and received a bachelor’s degree from Mississippi State College (now Mississippi State University) in 1943. While at MSU he was a member of the basketball team and was elected president of the Student Association.

He joined the U.S. Army immediately upon graduation from Mississippi State serving in the European Theater during World War II, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor, Legion of Merit, and Combat Infantry Badge. He served on active duty during the Korean Conflict in the 31st National Guard Infantry Division. Montgomery had a long and distinguished career in the Mississippi National Guard, retiring with the rank of Major General after 35 years.

Montgomery was elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1956 after operating a successful insurance business in Meridian. As a member of the state legislature he introduced the legislation establishing the Mississippi Educational Television network. He served in the legislature for 10 years before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1966.

He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967-1997, where he championed veterans’ issues and fought for a strong national defense. During his 13 year tenure as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, he established a peacetime GI education bill that now bears his name. The measure is credited with saving the all-volunteer military force by providing education benefits for active duty, National Guard and Reserve members.

As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Montgomery was a steadfast proponent of the motto of “peace through strength” and led efforts to improve the National Guard and Reserves. His work produced better training and equipment and integrated the Reserve components into the total national defense structure.

He made 14 trips to Southeast Asia during and after the Vietnam War in support of the troops and then as leader in efforts to determine the fate of Prisoners of War and the Missing In Action from the conflict. In 1990, he negotiated with the North Korean government to bring home the first set of remains of U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean War.

Defense Secretary William Perry presented Montgomery with the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Service in 1995, the highest civilian award given by the Pentagon. Montgomery also earned the Congressional Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Distinguished Service Award from the American Legion, the Silver Helmet Congressional Award from AMVETS of World War II and the National Guard’s highest honor, the Harry S. Truman Award.

He served under six presidents and counted former President George H.W. Bush among his closest friends. The two served in the House together in the late 1960’s. He was a frequent visitor to the White House during the first Bush presidency and spent Christmas holidays with the Bush family at Camp David, Md.

The Congressman helped establish the House Prayer Breakfast Group and was a faithful participant in the weekly gatherings for more than 35 years. In 2000, the House of Representatives named the meeting room in the U.S. Capitol in Montgomery’s honor.

Montgomery remained in Washington, D.C., and operated a lobbying firm after retiring from Congress in 1997. His company, The Montgomery Group, worked on defense, veterans, and health care issues. He retired in 2004 and returned to his hometown of Meridian.

In a May 2004 ceremony in Brandon, a C-17 Globemaster aircraft was named the “Spirit of G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery” in honor of his efforts to strengthen the Reserve components and in bringing the next-generation transport aircraft mission to the Air National Guard unit in Mississippi. It was only the third time in American history that a military aircraft was named for an individual.

In a November 2005 ceremony at the White House, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Congressman Montgomery, 85, died Friday, May 12, 2006, in Meridian at Jeff Anderson Regional Medical Center.