Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (1924 – 2013)
US Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), the last remaining WWII veteran serving in the Senate, passed away at the age of 89, leaving behind only two WWII veterans in the US House of Representatives: Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and John Dingell (D-Michigan).
Lautenberg was the final member among 115 US senators who had served in the military during WWII.
The son of Russian and Polish immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island, Lautenberg served in the Army Signal Corps in Europe, then attended Columbia University through the G.I. Bill. A successful businessman, he developed one of the largest computing services firms in the world.
“The death of Sen. Lautenberg does indeed mark the passing of an era. He and other World War II veterans in Congress were a special group, one with a bond that allowed them to reach across party lines as they faced our nation’s toughest challenges,” said Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, the Museum’s President and CEO. “They believed deeply in the American Spirit – what makes this country different.”
Just last year there were three WWII veterans in the Senate, but that number has rapidly declined to zero with the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a Medal of Honor recipient, and the retirement of Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), and now the death of Sen. Lautenberg.
Mueller said the World War II veterans serving in Congress “were a very modest group by and large,” slow to call attention to their individual wartime deeds. But several hundred veterans who served in Congress, or in other high-ranking federal positions, were determined to effect positive change in America and around the world, he said. The service of each of these individuals, in war and in peacetime, is highlighted in a searchable exhibit in the Museum’s recently opened US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.
“They went through the most cataclysmic and horrific war in human history – something that changes your life,” Mueller said. “They realized how close we came to losing everything we held dear. They understood the lessons of the war and they came back to build this country.”
These are the individuals who preserved cherished freedoms at a time of great peril – who did much to preserve civilization and democracy and hope around the world.
Lautenberg’s death also reinforces a sense of urgency at The National WWII Museum as it seeks completion of its New Orleans campus. The “Road to Victory” capital campaign will allow the Museum to tell, in compelling and innovative ways, the full story of the American Experience in WWII – while members of this generation are still here to see and appreciate this tribute.