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Public Statements

Expressing the Sense of Congress that the President Posthumously Award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harry W. Colmery

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


EXPRESSING THE SENSE OF CONGRESS THAT THE PRESIDENT POSTHUMOUSLY AWARD THE PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM TO HARRY W. COLMERY -- (House of Representatives - July 06, 2004)

Mrs. MILLER of Michigan. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 257) expressing the sense of Congress that the President should posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harry W. Colmery.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H. Con. Res. 257, which would express the sense of Congress that the President posthumously award the Medal of Freedom to Harry W. Colmery. Mr. Colmery, a lawyer who successfully argued cases before the Supreme Court after World War I, was the visionary who drafted in long-hand during the Christmas and New Year's holidays of 1943-1944 what would become the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the "G.I. Bill of Rights."

Michael Bennett, author of When Dreams Came True-The G.I. Bill and the Making of Modern America, credits Mr. Colmery with the wisdom and foresight that "made the United States the first overwhelming middle-class nation in the world. It was the law that worked, the law whose unexpected consequences were even greater than its intended purposes."

The World War II G.I. Bill of Rights-and the engaging response on the part of the 7.8 million veterans who used it-produced 450,000 engineers; 238,000 teachers; 91,000 scientists; 67,000 doctors; 22,000 dentists; and another one million college-educated men in other professional disciplines like business, management, manufacturing, banking, and social services. Among the 7.8 million GI Bill recipients were about five million World War II veterans who received other forms of valuable technical schooling or on-job training that become so important to our post-war civilian economy.

Mr. Speaker, even before WWII ended, Harry Colmery forecast that we as a nation would need a kind of economic "cubby hole" for training its veterans after the war, as the American economy would transform from making machine guns to making Maytags. Congress agreed, and on June 22, 1944, it sent the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 to the White House. President Roosevelt signed the bill saying "..... it gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our Armed Forces that the American people do not intend to let them down."

But frankly, it was more than not letting down the veterans themselves. Michael Bennett speculates on Mr. Colmery's foresight, "For this was a bill ..... conceived in democracy and dedicated to the proposition that those called upon to die for their country, if need be, are the best qualified to make it work, if given the opportunity."

Having served in the Army Air Service during World War I, Harry Colmery understood that economically empowering veterans through education and training was vastly superior to providing them with cash bonus payments, as was done for World War I service.

And history has shown how correct Mr. Colmery was.

Building upon the success of the original GI Bill, Congress subsequently approved a second bill following the Korean War; a third bill following the Vietnam War; a fourth bill for the post-Vietnam War era; and in 1985, under the dedicated leadership of former Veterans' Committee Chairman Sonny Montgomery, Congress approved the modern version of the GI Bill which is fittingly called the Montgomery GI Bill.

And in recent years, Congress has continued to keep faith with the goals originally set out by Harry Colmery by passing legislation that modernizes the GI Bill to meet the needs of America's military veterans in the 21st century. As a result of bipartisan legislation I was proud to sponsor along with my good friend Congressman LANE EVANS, the total lifetime college benefit for qualified veterans has risen from $24,192 in January 2001, to $35,460 today. In total, more than 21 million veterans have received higher education and job training through the original WWII GI Bill and its successors.

Michael Bennett noted that, "the $14.5 billion cost of the WWII GI Bill was paid by additional taxes on the increased income of the GI Bill recipient by 1960. Without the property-and the social peace-engendered by the GI Bill, America couldn't have afforded the Marshall Plan's $12.5 billion."

Mr. Bennett further observed that by 1960, "veterans were only in their early 40s, at the height of their earning powers, and the bill's catalytic effects would be felt for years to come throughout the entire economy as homes, schools, roads and service industries multiplied. Between 1960 and 1980, America's Gross Domestic Product quintupled from $515.9 billion to $2.7 trillion. Since then, the GDP has risen to $8.5 trillion in 1998, a tripling in 17 years rather than a quintupling in 20."

Economic philosopher Peter Drucker said in the Harvard Business Review that "the GI Bill of Rights and the enthusiastic response to it on the part of America's veterans signaled the shift to a knowledge society. In this society, knowledge is the primary resource for individuals and for the economy overall."

Mr. Drucker later wrote that "future historians may consider it the most important event in the 20th Century. We are clearly in the middle of this transformation; indeed, if history is any guide, it will not be completed until 2010 or 2020. But already it has changed the political, economic and moral landscape of the world."

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Harry W. Colmery essentially articulated for America what author Bennett later referred to as the "American Creed in Action." Mr. Colmery knew from his personal experiences during and after World War I that Americans who fight in wars often are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Mr. Colmery and The American Legion mounted the campaign for the GI Bill and against those who predicted that it could turn the nation's college and universities in to "educational hobo jungles." In the end, Mr. Colmery and Representative Edith Nourse Rodgers (MA), who worked with him and co-authored the GI Bill legislation in the House of Representatives, won out.

As the New York Times reported in November 1947, "..... here is the most astonishing fact in the history of American higher education. ..... The G.I.'s are hogging the honor rolls and the Dean's lists; as they are walking away with the top marks in all of their courses. ..... Far from being an educational problem, the veteran has become an asset to higher education."

Mr. Speaker, as a trained lawyer and not an economist or an educator, Harry Colmery designed the legislation to allow 14 million World War II veterans to transform arsenals of mass destruction into industries of mass consumption.
These veterans did not just pass through higher education, they transformed it. But it was more than that. They created the modern middle class, thanks to the vision of Harry Colmery.

I encourage my colleagues to emphatically support the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this extraordinary American.

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