Sonny’s Extraordinary Knack of Friend Making

sonny_montgomery_bill_crawford_01My first meeting with Sonny occurred in 1967 when he made his first visit to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. All Mississippi midshipmen were mustered to meet with him. As one of his constituents I was given the opportunity to help show him around. Not long afterwards I received the adjacent photo.  I was to learn later that Sonny always followed up on his meetings with constituents.  Many times after that first meeting our paths would cross. Every time he would say “hello Billy,” like we were old friends. Indeed, Sonny made friends of nearly everyone he met…and remembered their names.

Years later, from 1991 through 1995, it was my privilege to work closely with Sonny on efforts to save Meridian Naval Air Station from closure. These pressure-packed, intense battles with the Navy and Pentagon before the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission let me see Sonny’s true character up close. Through it all he remained a man of honor, guided by faith, strong patriotism, and unwavering perseverance. But it would be his extraordinary knack to make true friends, his good will fellowship, that made the difference.

sonny_montgomery_bill_crawford_02The adjacent photo shows us and community leaders in 1995 with the late Admiral Jeremy Boorda. Our team’s case was strong, but it was ultimately Sonny’s fellowship that got the ear of then Chief of Naval Operations Boorda. That led Boorda to publicly disagree with his boss, the Secretary of the Navy, about NAS Meridian in sworn testimony before the BRAC commission – an extraordinary occurrence that allowed the base to survive its third consecutive BRAC round.

During this period our community learned important leadership lessons from Sonny. We embedded his leadership approach in the Leadership Lauderdale program and, later, its components – faith, fellowship, patriotism, and perseverance – would become the guiding principles of The Montgomery Institute.

It was a privilege to know and work with Sonny and be his friend. I’ve never met a more remarkable man.

Bill Crawford


GVMF Gift to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery

GVMF Gift to CemeteryBo Maske(L), past president of the G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery Foundation, presents a check in the amount of $2,000 to Beth Milling, Board Member for Friends of Mississippi Veterans Foundation, and Henry Gruno, Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery Director.

The Montgomery Foundation provided the money for support of activities and operations at the cemetery in Newton.

MSU to celebrate first-of-its-kind veterans’ health program

Office of Public Affairs
News Bureau (662) 325-3442
Contact: Leah Barbour
November 03, 2014

Mississippi State University is the first institution of higher learning in the nation to partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans polytrauma medical services. Photo by: Russ Houston

Mississippi State University is the first institution of higher learning in the nation to partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans polytrauma medical services. Photo by: Russ Houston

STARKVILLE, Miss.–Mississippi State University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will celebrate a new partnership, the first of its kind in the nation, with a public ceremony at MSU’s Hunter Henry Center.

On Wednesday [Nov. 5] at 10 a.m., administrators from MSU, the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Veterans Administration Medical Center and the Veterans Health Administration will mark the celebration of MSU as being the only university campus in the nation to administer veteran’s health benefits in conjunction with the VA.

The university, with the Jackson VA, is offering polytrauma services–physical, occupational and speech therapies, along with mental health services services to not only students, but local residents as well.

Read more…

Montgomery Foundation Supports New MSU Veterans Facility

vet-on-campusOffice of Public Affairs
News Bureau (662) 325-3442
Contact: Amy Cagle

August 12, 2014

STARKVILLE, Miss. –The G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Foundation has made a $100,000 challenge commitment to the late U.S. Congressman’s alma mater for a new campus veterans center to be erected with private gifts on the Mississippi State campus.

“This is a most generous donation and a wonderful tribute to the late Sonny Montgomery who will always be remembered as a champion for assisting our servicemen and women,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. “Currently the veterans center is housed in an older building that cannot adequately serve this growing portion of MSU’s enrollment. A new home will enhance the educational and transitional environment for student veterans.”

The MSU master plan proposes the state-of-the-art facility to be built on the northern central portion of the Starkville campus. Thus far, $2.2 million is in hand from private contributions toward the construction, and an additional $1.5 million is still needed in gifts. Once completed, the building will house a large classroom/multipurpose room, a computer lab, study rooms and office spaces.

Brad Crawford, president of the Montgomery Foundation, said, “We are extremely proud to be among the contributors for this facility that will be a larger base of operations for veteran activity at
Mississippi State University.”

By stepping forward, the Montgomery Foundation seeks to encourage other private gifts to make the facility a reality, Crawford said.

At MSU, The G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans is a national leader in providing campus-based veteran resources in support of 2,000 currently enrolled student veterans, service members, dependents and survivors. The university’s 136 year-old land-grant institution been recognized for its veteran-friendly campus, most recently as a top 30 institution by U.S. News & World Report.

“This generous gift from the Montgomery Foundation celebrates the late Congressman Montgomery’s legacy of service to veterans,” said Ken McRae, director of the MSU center. “The gift will assist us in improving our support to MSU’s student veteran community now and in the future.”

A Meridian, Mississippi, native, Montgomery was a 1943 general business graduate of then Mississippi State College who served as Student Association president and was a member of the ROTC. Montgomery devoted three decades of his life to military service that included active duty in World War II and the Korean War. He retired from the Mississippi Army National Guard with the rank of major general after 35 years of service. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded by the United States, in 2005.

Montgomery began his political career in 1956 with election to the Mississippi State Senate and would serve a decade in that role. In 1966, Montgomery was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and held office through the terms of seven presidents before retiring in 1996. He won national acclaim for his leadership in passing legislation for what become known as the Montgomery G.I. Bill and was known on Capitol Hill as “Mr. Veteran.”

The Montgomery Foundation was established prior to Montgomery’s death in 2006 at the age of 85. It currently supports scholarships for veterans at Mississippi State and has contributed to projects that further the Montgomery name and legacy at MSU and in his home state of Mississippi.

Gifts for the new veterans center are part of Mississippi State’s ongoing Infinite Impact campaign, and alumni and friends may contact Wes Gordon, director of development for the Division of Student Affairs, at 662-325-9129 or email him at to contribute.

More on the university’s veterans center may be found at To learn more about the Montgomery Foundation, visit



A Rainy Saturday Morning in D.C.

Like most folks in Meridian, I knew Sonny. Not well, but I knew the man and I knew he represented our area in Congress really well.

In July 1981, I was one of the assistant scoutmasters of the Choctaw Area Council National Jamboree Troop. Four of us adults were taking our area troop of about 30 boys, to the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A. P. Hill, Virginia. Fort Hill is near Fredericksburg, and so, a side trip to Washington was planned on the way to the Jamboree. I am assuming that the Scout Executive in Meridian arranged the Washington “touristy trip” as I know none of the adult Scout leaders did it.

We arrived in Washington by train on a very rainy Saturday morning and boarded a bus that took us to the capitol building. We had been told that Sonny’s office had set up a tour of the building for us. We adults assumed we might be met by a young aide from Sonny’s office for a routine tour.

We got the surprise of our lives when we got off the bus! In addition to Mr. Vance being there to greet us, Sonny was there too. Sonny took us places in the capitol that normal tourists don’t get to go. He escorted us to the floor of the United States House of Representatives. He let the Scouts sit at various desks in the House. He pointed out the initials carved in the desks by men that we (Scouts and adult leaders) had only read about in history books! We didn’t get the 50 cent tour. We got the 50 dollar tour!

After we left the capitol we emphasized to the Scouts (I think some of the older boys realized this already) that we had been treated to a special tour by OUR congressman – a man that we all greatly admired and respected. We made sure the boys knew that this was no ordinary tour.

This story of mine shows again what Sonny was all about. He never forgot where he came from. He was one of us.

Bob Chatham

G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery Pictorial Biography Book

photo 1The G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Foundation and the Mississippi State University Libraries co-published this unique biography and has placed a copy of the book in the library of every high school, college and university in the State of Mississippi. A copy is also presented to recipients of foundation recognition awards and scholarships for military or civilian leadership or academic achievement. The book is also utilized by the Montgomery Leadership Program in its leadership training curriculum.



Salter: Book honors life of late ‘Sonny’ Montgomery

Originally published in the Clarion Ledger and written by Sid Salter:

It’s sad but true that many of the Mississippi State University students who walk past the bronze statue at the southwest corner of the Drill Field on a daily basis have little or no idea who Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery was or why his imposing visage guards the heart of the campus.

But older Mississippians know that perhaps no single individual ever did more to advance the cause of accessibility to higher education and to guarantee the survival of America’s volunteer armed forces than did the longtime soldier, businessman, congressman and patriot from Meridian whose ancestors were among the founding fathers of MSU.

A book honoring Montgomery’s extraordinary life and work is set to debut later this week. Commissioned by the Montgomery Foundation and produced from the “Sonny Montgomery Collection” by the MSU Libraries, the pictorial history of Montgomery’s life was gleaned from over 13,500 photographs donated to the university by Montgomery.

The book will be donated by the Montgomery Foundation to National Guard armories and facilities, schools and institutions of higher learning, and other appropriate venues as a testament to Montgomery’s remarkable legacy.

< Read More >

Sonny Awarded Bronze Star In 1945

Recently, we found a news clipping from The Meridian Star dated September 3, 1945 describing the awarding of a Bronze Star for heroic achievement to Lt. Gillespie V. Montgomery and we thought we should share it.

1945 09 02 Officer Decorated Sonny Montgomery

Memories: “It is our job to set the example.”

As a child growing up in East Mississippi, “Sonny” Montgomery was “our” Congressman. To us, in rural Newton County, he was bigger than life.

After high school I enlisted in the Air Force and went off for basic and then technical training. Once that was completed, I (age 18) was headed home to Mississippi for leave. Needless to say, having never been far from Mississippi before, I was feeling pretty full of myself. As I arrived via plane at Jackson, I headed down the jet way. I’d been traveling for a while (in uniform) and didn’t take the time to button my collar, tie back my tie or button my coat. I am quite sure I looked a mess.

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

Mississippi Congressman and Brigadier General G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, c1991.

When I entered the gate terminal I recognized a man standing there and waiting to board his own flight. I had never met him, personally, but there was no mistake that it was Sonny Montgomery, probably on his way back to Washington. I tried to keep walking but he said, in a gentle but firm voice, “Young man, it is our job to set the example”. I could say nothing but “Yes Sir”. I knew what he meant. He was talking about those of us in uniform.

With that, I headed straight to nearest restroom to straighten myself up. When I came out, he was still standing there. He simply smiled and gave me his signature “thumbs up”. Without a word, I headed as quickly as I could to meet my parents who were waiting to take me home.

I could not have known on that day when I met Sonny “personally” for the first time that our paths would cross again many times. Because of his support of the military and our education benefits, I was able to go to college and later became an officer in the Navy. I even have advanced degrees because of the Montgomery GI Bill. One of my fondest memories during active duty was to be able to come back to Mississippi and be the first Commanding Officer of the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Naval Reserve Center in Meridian. By then Sonny and I had become friends and he was a mentor to me. I was able to introduce him, tell this story during the dedication ceremony and tell him that at “his” Center, “It will always be our job to set the example”.

He remembered and, yes, I got a “thumbs up” that day too.

Randy Reeves

Veterans credit GI Bill for helping them readjust to society after their tours of duty

November 09, 2013 11:02 pm • BILL TOSCANO •

gvsm-hr1400[…] Harry Candee is SUNY Adirondack’s veterans’ services counselor, and he said Roberts, who he refers to as “a great student,” is one of 142 veterans enrolled at the college.

“That just counts the veterans,” said Candee, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Army and used the GI Bill while a service member and afterwards. “We have others here who are on a parent’s benefits.”

Candee, who has been counseling veterans for 14 years, said he feels SUNY Adirondack “bends over backwards” to help veterans, and added that anyone who knows a veteran should tell the veteran about the GI Bill.

“They only have 15 years to get started, so it is imperative if people know a veteran, they push them to take the benefits.”

Back to World War II

Historically, the GI Bill has been a catalyst for returning veterans.

The program, originally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act when it was passed in 1944, allowed for education, low-cost mortgages and low-cost business loans. It has changed over the years, first in 1984 when it was revamped by Mississippi Congressman Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery — the “Montgomery GI Bill — then undergoing even more changes in 2009, when it was referred to as the “Post 9/11 GI Bill.

“I was broke when I got out. I got $300 for mustering out, and I owed my dentist $200,” said Lake George resident Dennis Galloway, who returned from fighting in the Pacific and used GI Bill benefits to train as an electrician with his father.

“It paid for my on-the-job training,” said Galloway, who went on to work as an electrician for more than two decades and parlayed that into a career as a real estate agent. “I was an apprentice to my father. He got approved because of his experience. That was my career from there.

“The GI Bill gave you the opportunity to get trained at the government’s expense,” he said, reflecting on the situation then and now. “The fact that you can go to school gives the veterans a chance to get their lives back.” […]

Read the rest…

A History of The GI Bill also from

1944 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law June 22, 1944.

1984 — Former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery revamped the GI Bill, which has been known as the “Montgomery GI Bill” ever since, assuring the legacy of the original GI Bill lives on, as VA home loan guaranty and education programs continue to work for our newest generation of combat veterans.

2008 — The GI Bill was updated once again. The new law gives veterans with active duty service on, or after, 9/11 enhanced educational benefits that cover more educational expenses, provide a living allowance, money for books and the ability to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children.

August 1, 2009 — Expanded the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include Active Service performed by National Guard members under title 32 U.S.C. for the purpose of organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing or training the National Guard; or under section 502(f) for the purpose of responding to a national emergency.

March 5, 2011 — Limits active duty members to the net cost for tuition and fees prorated based on the eligibility tiers (40%-100%) previously established for Veterans. Same limitations apply to transferee spouses of active duty servicemembers.

August 1, 2011 — For Veterans and their transferees — simplifies the tuition and fee rates for those attending a public school and creates a cap of $17,500 for those enrolled in a private or foreign school. Pays all public school in-state tuition and fees; private and foreign school costs are capped at the national maximum annually.

October 1, 2011 — Allows students to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for non-college degree (NCD) programs and Non-college degree (NCD) programs offered at non-degree granting schools, pays the actual net costs for in-state tuition and fees or the national maximum, whichever is less. Also pays up to $83 per month for books and supplies.