Several hundred Americans received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, for their service in World War II. Only four are still alive.
A nationwide effort is now underway to salute them – and every one of the 16 million men and women who served during that war – by holding a state funeral when the last Medal of Honor recipient dies.
The House Government Operations Committee approved a bill Thursday that proposes a resolution calling on the president and Congress to authorize that funeral. A nearly identical bill was held over.
“There is some urgency to this request,” said Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora), explaining that the youngest of the four is 92 years old.
Lislegard sponsors HF826, which was referred to the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Division. The companion, SF524, is sponsored by Sen. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) and awaits action by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.
The resolution in Lislegard’s bill reads, in part: “WHEREAS the Medal of Honor is only conferred upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty … BE IT RESOLVED by the Legislature of the State of Minnesota that it urges the President of the United States to hereby designate a state funeral for the last surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipient.”
State funerals, which are usually only held for current or former presidents, often involve a ceremony in the state where the honoree lived, then travel to Washington, D.C. for formal ceremonies there, before a final ceremony at the place of interment.
John Kraemer, chair of the Minnesota Medal of Honor Memorial Committee, said there have been two other Medal of Honor recipients who have been given state funerals: Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Daniel Inouye, a senator from Hawaii who died in 2012.
“The precedent is there for consideration,” Kraemer said.
Lee Egerstrom, co-coordinator of the Minnesota’s State Funeral for World War II Veterans organization, said his earliest memory is, as a 2-year-old, the hugging and crying in his household when the end of the war was announced.
He believes the state funeral would achieve two goals. One is to honor the veterans.
“The second is that it goes to the heart of educating future generations of Minnesotans,” Egerstrom said. “That, to grandparents such as myself, is a very important thing.”
Lislegard’s bill is the same as HF562, sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), except that it does not contain a provision which would allow the honoree to lie in state in the United States Capitol Rotunda.
Fabian’s bill was laid over by the committee. But the two sponsors, who presented their bills together, agreed to work with one another so that a final version of the bill does contain that provision. The companion to HF562 is SF686. It is sponsored by Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) and also awaits action by the Senate veterans committee.