Salute to a Patriot: A Tribute to Sonny Montgomery

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Thirty-one hallowed words that embody the spirit of the greatest nation on Earth. The Pledge of Allegiance is about freedom. It is about justice for all. It is about patriotism. Thousands of Americans know and recite the pledge. A few who have dedicated their lives to this country and its people embody its words. They are patriots.

Sonny as Mr. Mississippi StateHow fitting that on September 13, 1988, a veteran congressman from Mississippi became the first to lead the House of Representatives in the Pledge of Allegiance as it became a permanent part of daily operations. Gillespie V. Montgomery, affectionately known as Sonny, lived the Pledge of Allegiance during three decades of service to his country and his state. Adlai Stevenson once observed that “Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” Those words might have been uttered to describe Sonny Montgomery.

Sonny enrolled in Mississippi State College to pursue a degree in business. There -- an institution his great-grandfather, Col. W. B. Montgomery, had helped establish decades earlier -- Sonny furthered his military skills in the ROTC and gained his first taste of politics. Following in the footsteps of the legendary John C. Stennis, who had preceded him at Mississippi State by 20 years, Sonny was elected both president of the student body and “Mr. Mississippi State.”

He was first elected to public office in 1956 when he won a seat in the Mississippi Senate. He was reelected four times and compiled an impeccable record of service. In ten years, he never missed a vote and legislation he sponsored is still benefiting Mississippi. He was the driving force behind the state's educational television system, an extensive waterway district, and an enormous building program for Mississippi's universities and colleges.

In 1966 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the next thirty years he represented Mississippi's Third District in Congress and served with seven presidents. As a member of Congress, he traveled to Vietnam to visit with the troops at Christmas and to search for missing soldiers. He also introduced and shepherded the passage of the Montgomery G. I. Bill. Sonny was known as one of the nation's leading champions of a strong defense and the foremost advocate for veterans' rights. On Capitol Hill and around the country, Sonny Montgomery was known as Mr. Veteran.

Sonny as Mr. Mississippi StateOn November 9, 2005, Sonny received the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the highest award that can be given to a civilian. President George W. Bush said during the award ceremony “Sonny Montgomery has given the United States a lifetime of service…In three decades as a congressman, Sonny Montgomery was a tireless advocate for American servicemen and women -- past and present. His forward-looking spirit helped to equip and train the finest fighting force in the world. And the Montgomery G.I. education bill has helped millions of veterans find opportunity in the nation they defended.”

Less than a year later, on May 12, 2006, Sonny passed away at the age of 85.

History will be kind to Sonny Montgomery. He did what he set out to do three decades ago -- serve his country, serve the people, and make a difference.

Mr. Veteran himself once said, “Patriotism is a pretty simple word, but also a beautiful word to most Americans.” To the American people, the name Sonny Montgomery is beautiful, too. To most Americans, it means patriotism.

Made available by the Montgomery Institute at

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