Congress returned from its summer recess Sept. 6, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., wasted no time in introducing S. 1514, a bill authorizing President Obama to award a gold medal on behalf of the Congress to Elouise Pepion Cobell.
The legislation would recognize her outstanding and enduring contributions to American Indians, Alaska natives and the United States through her pursuit of justice. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where it has three co-sponsors.
Pepion, a member of Montana’s Blackfeet Indian tribe, was the lead plaintiff in a recent lawsuit that challenged the government’s management of trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 Native Americans. The case, Cobell v. Salazar, resulted in a settlement of $3.4 billion with the proceeds going to Native Americans.
Other bills for congressional gold medals — which, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award — have also been introduced recently. The legislation for each medal includes provisions for duplicate bronze medals to be made available for collectors to purchase from the U.S. Mint.
First Special Service Force
On Aug. 1, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced S. 1460, which would grant a congressional gold medal collectively to the First Special Service Force. During World War II, the force was unique in that it was the only unit formed consisting of troops from two different countries. Half of the 1,800 soldiers were American and half were Canadian. Additionally, 800 American members of the Service Battalion provided support for the combat troops.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where it has two co-sponsors.
Montford Point Marines
In the House of Representatives, on July 7, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., introduced H.R. 2447, seeking to award a congressional gold medal, collectively, to the Montford Point Marines. The findings section of the bill states that on June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission and thus opening the doors for the very first African-Americans to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. The first black Marine recruits were trained at Camp Montford Point, near the New River in Jacksonville, N.C.
The bill currently sits in the House Committee on Financial Services where it has 49 co-sponsors. Similar legislation was introduced in 2009 but was unsuccessful.
Father Mychal Judge
Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., introduced two similar bills — H.R. 2503 on July 12 and H.R. 2580 on July 18 — each providing for the award of a posthumous congressional gold medal to Father Mychal Judge. Judge was the chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and was the first recorded victim of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks in New York City.
Both of Rep. King’s bills have been referred to the house Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology where they sit with one and 12 co-sponsors, respectively.
Former Rep. Anthony D. Weiner introduced a similar bill in the House — H.R. 1027 — on March 10. Rep. Weiner resigned effective June 21.
Similar legislation was introduced in 2010 in the last Congress.
Other medal bills
Several other bills calling for the production of medals were introduced in the past several months.
On June 21, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., introduced S. 1239, the “Fallen Heroes of 9/11 Act.” The bill would provide for a medal to be awarded by the president to the memorials established at the three sites honoring the men and women who died as a result of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks. These sites would be the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, and the Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon.
The bill allows for the production of bronze duplicates to be made available to collectors and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs where it currently sits with seven co-sponsors.
Similar legislative attempts to provide medals to the next of kin or other representative of those killed as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were introduced in 2010, 2007, 2005 and 2003 by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., but each bill was unsuccessful
In the House, on May 13, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., introduced the “Gold Medal of Remembrance for the Sons and Daughters of Our Fallen Act.” H.R. 1926 would provide for the design, production and presentation of a medal of remembrance to the children of members of the Armed Forces who die while serving on active duty in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn. The medal would be composed of gold-plated bronze.
The bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel on June 24 and it currently has two co-sponsors.
Similar legislation introduced by Rep. Rohrabacher was introduced in the House in 2010, but did not become law. ■