Congressional Gold Medal
The United States Senate is considering legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Pacific defenders of World War II. Senator Joe Manchin III (D-WV) introduced the bill in February, 2017, and Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) have signed on to S. 450 as cosponsors.
The legislation honors “members of the Armed Forces who fought in defense of Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippine Archipelago between December 7, 1941, and May 10, 1942, and who died or were imprisoned by the Japanese military in the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Manchuria, Wake Island, and Guam from April 9, 1942, until September 2, 1945, in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to the United States.” Senator Crapo’s office confirms that the legislation includes Wake Island’s WW2 civilian contractors. While they were not technically members of the Armed Forces during the war, the Wake civilians are included for their participation in defense of the island. In 1981, the Wake civilian defenders were belatedly awarded U. S. Navy discharges and VA benefits.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by Congress and dates back to the Revolutionary War: the first medal was awarded in 1776 to George Washington, then commander of the Continental Army. For decades the honor went only to individual military recipients, but by the late 19th century Congress was also recognizing civilians for significant technological, scientific, cultural, and political achievements. Congress generally presented gold medals to living recipients and, in cases of heroic expeditions or military action involving multiple members, silver and bronze duplicates were minted for other participants. Each medal is designed specifically for the recipient and accomplishment. In most modern cases, the Smithsonian Institution retains the original single gold medal for display and the U. S. Mint strikes bronze duplicates for purchase.
In 1956, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the U. S. Civil War survivors, honoring both Union and Confederate forces (see image). Ninety years after the war, only four known living survivors remained. In the past two decades several WW2 groups have been honored for service, including the Navajo code talkers, Tuskegee Airmen, Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), Doolittle Tokyo raiders, Flying Aces, Civil Air Patrol, and, most recently, Filipino WW2 veterans. Legislation for the Filipino veterans’ medal, honoring over 260,000 WW2 servicemen, was initiated in June of 2015, passed the Senate with a unanimous vote a year later, and moved quickly through the House of Representatives and to the president’s desk, becoming law in December 2016.
Gold medal legislation requires 2/3 co-sponsorship in each chamber before it is accepted for study by the relevant committee. Requiring this high level of support protects the integrity of the award, but sets a high bar to reach. Senate gold medal legislation is also pending for a WW2 Ghost Army award and several other bills have been introduced in the House this year, including one for Chinese American WW2 veterans. Gold medal legislation affords good opportunities for bipartisan cooperation in our divisive Congress.
Idaho’s Senator Crapo reached out to the Wake civilian survivors’ group early in the process, and his office remains in close contact as they prepare for a joint event on August 23, 2017, at Veterans Memorial Park in Boise to acknowledge the Wake defenders and their families and to promote the WW2 Pacific defenders gold medal legislation. Wake’s WW2 civilian contractors came from many states and the survivors’ postwar reunions were held in many cities, but Boise remained the heart of the organization. Some 250 of the men hailed from Idaho, and Boise was the headquarters of the Morrison-Knudsen Company, which sponsored the Wake Island project. The survivors’ organization formally disbanded in 2003, but Alice Ingham, widow of survivor Ralph “Pete” Ingham, offered to organize continuing annual reunions in Boise. The last of the Idaho survivors, Joe Goicoechea, passed away earlier this year and only twelve known living survivors remain. This September 8-9, 2017, will be the final reunion for the group.
On July 20, 2017, Senator Crapo read a statement into the Congressional Record in recognition of those who served on Wake Island, with particular focus on the civilian defenders for their contribution. “The history of World War II and the bravery of the American service members who fought for our Nation and its allies are familiar parts of our collective national history, but an often overlooked part of this legacy is the service of the civilian workers on Wake Island who were swept into the war,” the senator noted, following up with a brief summation of the heroic defense of Wake in December of 1941. In conclusion, Crapo stated, “Those who survived and returned home have enriched our communities. Thank you to those who served on Wake Island and their families for the immeasurable service you have given to our country and for your enduring examples of devotion and strength.”
Our extended Wake Family deeply appreciates this recognition and the inclusion of Wake’s civilians in the Congressional Gold Medal legislation for all of the Pacific defenders in WW2. We look forward to its increasing support in Congress and passage into law in the near future.
For more information, see Senator Crapo’s full statement “Recognizing those who served on Wake Island”