Golfer Jack Nicklaus, Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Monuments Men whose story was depicted in the recent George Clooney movie would be among the latest recipients of Congress' highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, under legislation approved by the House.
A number of the measures that passed Monday seek to pay tribute to World War II-era groups such as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders before it's too late. For example, of the approximately 350 men -- and women -- of the Monuments Men who worked to return Nazi-looted artworks to their owners, only six survive.
"What started out as an untold story from World War II to now being recognized with Congress' highest honor has been a remarkable journey," said Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who sponsored the proposed Monuments Men Recognition Act.
Robert Edsel, founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, welcomed the action before Memorial Day. The measure is expected to go before the Senate later this week.
An eclectic group has received the Congressional Gold Medal, including Wilbur and Orville Wright, Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Walt Disney. Supporters of a potential recipient must line up two-thirds of the House and 67 of the 100 senators as co-sponsors for a measure to have the individual or group be considered.
Other groups that would receive the medal under the legislation approved by the House:
--The 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers, a unit made up mainly of Puerto Ricans "in recognition of its pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and many acts of valor in the face of adversity."
--The members of the "Doolittle Tokyo Raiders for outstanding heroism, valor, skill, and service to the United States in conducting the bombings of Tokyo." The Senate passed a companion bill last year. "The heroism of these Doolittle Raiders was a critical turning point in World War II,"’ said Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), the bill's chief sponsor in the House.
--World War II members of the Civil Air Patrol. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who sponsored the Senate bill approved last year, said the legislation will offer "long overdue recognition to a courageous group of individuals who answered the call to duty at our nation’s time of greatest danger."
--American Fighter Aces "in recognition of their heroic military service and defense of our country's freedom throughout the history of aviation warfare."
Nicklaus would be awarded the medal "in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence, good sportsmanship, and philanthropy."
"While his golf game is the stuff legends are made of, his work to support sick children and their families, help underprivileged children, and provide opportunities for our nation's wounded warriors is what is truly remarkable," said Rep. Pat Tiberi, a Republican from Nicklaus' home state of Ohio.
Professional golfers Arnold Palmer and Byron Nelson previously received the award.