By Mannix Porterfield
Rep. Nick Rahall’s successful effort to give the National Guard a seat at the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s table earned him the prestigious Harry S. Truman Award, unveiled in a ceremony Monday in the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber.
Veterans of wars ranging from World War II to the current conflicts in the Middle East, many donning military caps and special blue and red blazers, filled the chamber and part of the galleries to watch Rahall receive the award from Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, president of the National Guard Association of the United States.
Rahall worked in tandem with Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., a co-recipient of the award, to win an uphill battle in elevating the Guard’s status.
“No one ever thought it would get through the House of Representatives,” Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the state’s adjutant general, recalled of the National Guard bill putting the unit on par with other branches of service.
“But a shrewd, able congressman went across the aisle to get a friend of his from Michigan.”
The award bears the name of President Harry S. Truman, who joined the National Guard after he was rejected by West Point because of weak eyesight.
Rahall’s selection put him in elite company of past recipients that have included Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush; one governor, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania; and comedian Bob Hope.
In a half-hour ceremony, Hargett surveyed a sea of veterans occupying the House seats, and said West Virginia observed the holiday right by honoring them on Presidents Day.
“While everybody else is out taking a holiday and shopping, you guys are honoring veterans,” he said.
“I bet you that if Abe Lincoln and George Washington were alive today, they would say to you that West Virginia has got Presidents Day right. If it were not for you, we would not be a free nation today. And when it comes to supporting the National Guard, no state does it better than West Virginia.”
Rahall said he was “very humbled and very honored” to receive the award, saying his efforts on Capitol Hill pale alongside the achievement and sacrifices of the men and women in uniform.
The 3rd District congressman recognized a state legend, Herschel “Woody” Williams, a Medal of Honor recipient, who was honored with a standing ovation.
“Where would this nation be without the sacrifices and the service of the citizen soldier?” Rahall asked.
Comprised of 13 pewter sculpted Minutemen, representing the original colonies, the award will be displayed in his office as a constant reminder of the Guard’s service, Rahall said.
“My work to get a seat at the head table with the Joint Chiefs of Staff was based on my firm conviction that without the National Guard, from Concord and Lexington, to derecho and (Superstorm) Sandy, there would not have been a head table in any of our homes, in our country, today,” he said.
“We know George Washington was right when he said, ‘We owe our veterans so much more than we can ever repay them.’ That is one fight we must never cease waging.”
The original National Guard legislation was introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, also D-W.Va., and ultimately attracted 73 co-sponsors.
Hoyer’s predecessor, retired Gen. Allen Tackett, a 48-year Guardsman, called the award the highest honor the National Guard bestows on anyone.
“It should have been done a long time ago,” Tackett said of the Guard’s new status, shortly before the ceremony.
Rahall’s ability to work in a bi-partisan fashion got the measure approved in the House, he said.
“That’s why Sen. (Robert C.) Byrd used to say he’s the greatest congressman in the United States,” the general added.
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