US Coins

Obama signs bill authorizing medals honoring 9/11 victims

President Barack Obama Dec. 23 signed legislation to award congressional gold medals in honor of the men and women who died as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

The Fallen Heroes of 9/11 Act passed the House of Representatives unanimously on Dec. 14, passed the Senate by unanimous consent the following day and was presented to President Obama on Dec. 19.

As a bill, H.R. 3421 was introduced on Nov. 14, 2011, by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. It calls for three gold medals of appropriate design to be presented to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, and the Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon with the understanding that each medal will be put on permanent, appropriate display.

The three designs are to carry “suitable emblems, devices, and inscriptions” as determined by the Treasury secretary. Consistent with other congressional gold medal bills, the act calls for
duplicate bronze medals to be made available to collectors.

Rep. Shuster introduced a previous version of this bill, H.R. 2964, in the House on Sept. 7, 2011, and Sen. Robert P. Casey, D-Pa., introduced a Senate version on June 26, 2011. In his comments accompanying his Sept. 7 bill, Rep. Shuster said, “The tragic deaths at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania on September 11th have forever changed our nation,” adding, “The attacks took the lives of police, firemen, first responders and regular working Americans. Each and every one of them should be remembered.” That bill differed from the one presented to the president in that it was more specific in terms of the designs that each medal was to carry.

Other gold medals

Several other bills for gold medals were introduced in December. On Dec. 14, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced S. 1993, the Lena Horne Recognition Act, in recognition of Horne’s achievements and contributions to American culture and the civil rights movement. A similar bill was introduced in the House on May 10. The House bill has acquired 308 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. Similar legislation was introduced in the House in 2010, but was unsuccessful.

On Dec. 15, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M, introduced S. 2004, to grant a gold medal to the troops who defended Bataan during World War II. On Dec. 16, Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced similar legislation in the House with H.R. 3712. Unsuccessful legislation covering the same subject was introduced in the House and Senate in 2009, and in the House in 2008.

On Dec. 16, Rep. Michael T. McCaul, R-Texas, introduced H.R. 3700, the Louis Zamperini Congressional Gold Medal Act. Zamperini competed as a runner in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. While on a rescue mission in 1943 while fighting in World War II, his plane crashed and he survived 47 days at sea, drifting approximately 2,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to wash ashore on the Marshall Islands where he and another were taken prisoner of war by the Japanese military.

The legislation notes, “For over two years, Zamperini endured the horrific conditions of his captivity in several Japanese P.O.W. camps, where he was singled out by guards for extreme forms of torture because of his celebrity status as an Olympic athlete.” Undeterred, “Zamperini overcame severe post traumatic stress disorder from his time as a prisoner of war to dedicate his life to inspiring others and being an example for other soldiers to follow.” Rep. McCaul introduced the legislation after reading Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Only one other congressional gold medal has been approved in the current session of Congress. On Nov. 23, President Obama signed what became Public Law 112-59, granting a congressional gold medal to the Montford Point Marines, the first African Americans who entered the Marine Corps and fought in World War II. ¦

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