When Congress wraps up its current session this week, the last two World War II veterans will leave office. The departures of Michigan’s John Dingell, 88, and Texas’s Ralph Hall, 91, mark the end of an era.
The U.S. House of Representatives class of 1946 included 70 members who had served in the war, among them John F. Kennedy. The number of WWII veterans in Congress peaked in the 1970s, when nearly 4 of 5 members were veterans. Today only 1 in 5 is a vet.
U.S. House historian Matthew Wasniewski told NPR the era of the WWII veterans was one of the most collegial and least partisan. The veterans shared a history from Normandy to Nagasaki that brought them together, no matter which party they belonged to. No doubt that atmosphere had a lot to do with Congress’s ability to pass the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977.
The World War II veterans in Congress had seen the worst of mankind. If they wanted America to stand for something better, the mid 1970s were a disapointing time. Some of America’s biggest and best-known companies were caught bribing overseas officials. Congress responded by crafting a tricky piece of long-arm legislation, debating it for a year, and passing it into law.
Here are some of the WWII veterans who made it happen:
Senator William Proxmire. He introduced the bill that became the FCPA on January 18, 1977. During World War II, he had served as a member of the Military Intelligence Service. Before that, he graduated from Yale in 1938 and from Harvard Business School 1940. After the war, he went to back to Harvard and picked up another master’s degree.
Senator Edward W. Brooke. He was one of the bill’s managers in the Senate. Brooke, who was African American, spent five years as an officer in the Army, seeing combat in Italy during WWII as a member of the segregated 366th Infantry Regiment, earning a Bronze Star.
Senator John Tower. He was another manager of Proxmire’s bill. Tower left college in the summer of 1943 to serve in the Pacific Theater during WWII on an amphibious gunboat. He returned to Texas after the war in 1946, discharged as a seaman first class.
Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr.. He was a manager of the bill in the senate. Williams was called to active duty as a seaman in the United States Naval Reserve in 1941. He became a naval aviator and was discharged as a Lieutenant, junior grade, in 1945. After four Senate terms, Williams was convicted in 1981 of bribery and conspiracy. He served three years in the minimum-security federal prison at Allenwood, Pennsylvania.
From the House of Representatives, the managers of the bill that became the FCPA included:
Rep. Harley O. Staggers. He served in the United States Navy during World War II.
Rep. Bob Eckhardt. He served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1944.
Rep. Ralph H. Metcalf. He served in the transportation corps of U.S. Army in World War II, rising to the rank of first lieutenant and awarded the Legion of Merit medal. Before the war, Metcalf jointly held the world record in the 100-meter dash. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Metcalf placed second in the 100-meter dash behind Jesse Owens. Owens said later that Metcalf, who was also African American, helped him and the 1936 track and field team overcome the many distractions they faced. “He said we were not there to get involved in the political situation. We were there for one purpose—to represent our country.”
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On December 19, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the FCPA into law. Carter was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1943. From 1946, he served deployments in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. He was promoted to full Llieutenant and eventually served as senior officer of the pre-commissioning crew of the Seawolf, the Navy’s second nuclear submarine. He resigned his commission and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1953.
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A footnote to FCPA history. Senator Lee Metcalf signed the FCPA legislation in his capacity as acting president pro tempore of the senate. In 1942, Metcalf had enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was commissioned after completing officers’ training school. He was part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day as a staff officer with the Fifth Corps. He was at the Battle of the Bulge with the 1st Army, Ninth Infantry Division. After the war he served as a military government officer in Germany, where he helped draft ordinances for the first free local elections and establishment of a civilian court system. He was discharged from the Army as a first lieutenant in April 1946.
Here’s the signature page from the FCPA:
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.