The United States Association of Former Members of Congress will honor former Congressmen for their service in World War II at its seventh annual Statesmanship Award Dinner on March 2.
Five former Members will be recognized specifically. Former Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), John Glenn (D-Ohio) and George McGovern (D-S.D.) and former Reps. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) and Bob Michel (R-Ill.) will be honored at the event, which will feature dinner and an auction of Congressional memorabilia donated by former Members.
“All of these people have had a combination of a fantastic lifetime of service to their country [that] really began when they were soldiers in World War II,” said USAFMC President and former Rep. Larry LaRocco (D-Idaho). “They are just outstanding individuals.”
The association is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to promote greater public understanding of the role of Congress and representative democracy throughout the world. The dinner comes on the heels of an expected partnership the organization will have with the Library of Congress and AARP to conduct a project to collect oral histories from former Members who served during the war.
“We feel there is a very unique perspective for people who served in the military and people who served in Congress,” LaRocco said. “AARP is poised to make a major commitment of money to help us put that together. We are very excited because this will dramatically expand our programs in a meaningful way.”
The organization chose to honor its members who are WWII veterans in part because of the upcoming 60th anniversary of D-Day, said Peter Weichlein, executive director of the association. Although five are being acknowledged specifically, the dinner will honor all those who served in the war.
“We really need to recognize them while we still have the chance,” Weichlein said. “Just [to hear] those stories and get an understanding of how they viewed their responsibilities as a citizen and how that translated first in uniform and then on Capitol Hill.”
The event will be held at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel, and organizers expect about 450 guests to attend, including several current and former Members of Congress from both parties.
“It’s such a wonderful, unique evening to see a lot of prominent politicians get together and just enjoy each other’s company for just a few hours,” LaRocco said. “When you look at it and you step away from that experience, there are so many wonderful things about that institution of Congress.”
Memorabilia auctioned at the event will include campaign items such as photographs, posters, pamphlets and jackets. The collection will be the largest auction of Congressional memorabilia in D.C., LaRocco said.
“It’s things that our former members have collected over the years and are willing to donate,” Weichlein said.
Typically, the dinner raises $100,000 each year for USAFMC programs, LaRocco said. These programs try to break down misconceptions that Members are removed from regular life and show Americans that they are in office to serve, he said.
“We demystify the people in Congress,” he said. “Members of Congress are just like their neighbors who have a real sense of public service.”
Sharing Congressional stories is also important, he said.
“Of the approximately 12,000 Americans who have served in Congress since the beginnings of our country, there are 12,000 different stories,” LaRocco said.
One way the group attempts to do this is with the Congress to Campus program. Teaming with the Stennis Center for Public Service and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, the program sends bipartisan pairs of former Members to visit colleges and universities throughout the country.
The Members spend two and a half days talking informally with students and staff members.
“We’ve reached hundreds of thousands of students,” LaRocco said. “We really take our role seriously where we want to continue to make America a better place.”
The dinner serves as a way to highlight the accomplishments of the past year and prepare for the new one, LaRocco said. Of all the fundraising he has done in his life, the dinner is the only time when guests have called him and thanked him for the opportunity to donate.
“It’s a very nice evening,” he said. “You bring these former Members and current Members in the same room. It sort of reminds you of days when the Congress was a little less partisan.”