The death of Frank Lautenberg means that not a single one of the 115 World War II veterans who served in the Senate remain, the latest evidence of the rapid decline in members with military service.
The numbers are striking. As recently as the 111th Congress, which ended January 3, 2011, there were 26 members of the Senate who were veterans. Today, twelve of those 26 are gone, due to a variety of causes from death to retirement to electoral defeat. Two more veterans -- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) -- are retiring at the end of the 113th Congress next year.
That means that, at most, twelve sitting Senators will be veterans when the 114th Congress convenes in January 2015. (There is, of course, the possibility that veterans will win races next fall and add to that number.)
The story in the House is much the same. Less than one in five (19 percent) of current House members were active duty military, the lowest percentage of veterans in Congress since World War II. *(The highest percentage of veterans came in 1977, when eight in ten Members of Congress boasted some form of military service.)
The decline in service has obvious roots (the end of the military draft in the early 1970s) and huge impact on American policy making.
Sending American men and women to war is the most serious decision a Congress can make. Fewer and fewer people making those decision in the future will be able to speak from a position of experience and authority on the subject.