This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – Bridging the gap between Missouri and Illinois in more ways than one, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have voted to name the new Mississippi River bridge at St. Louis after both Stan Musial and the nation’s veterans.
The U.S. House voted 395-2 Tuesday to approve the new name, “Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.” The Senate – which had approved naming it the “Stan Musial Memorial Bridge” back in March – is expected to endorse the revised name by unanimous consent this week.
Staffers for Missouri and Illinois senators said the lawmakers had agreed to the longer name after discussions with their House colleagues. While the Missourians had generally argued for Stan alone, some on the Illinois side of the river had fought for the veterans’ connection.
Assuming it is signed into law by President Barack Obama, the legislation directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to name the new Interstate 70 bridge across the Mississippi River the “Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.” The bridge, now under construction, is expected to open to traffic early next year.
Among the speakers who praised Musial in their remarks during the House discussion of the bill were U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis; Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin; John Shimkus, R-Collinsville; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth; Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, Ill.; and Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, Ill.
Also speaking in favor of the bill was U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville – a former adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard who had argued forcefully for including “veterans” in the name. Earlier this year, Enyart told the Beacon that he had made a promise to veterans to try to name the bridge for them.
Davis – who had argued for the Musial name back in March – helped shepherd the bill through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In addition to paying tribute to Musial, Davis said, the new name for the bridge “also recognizes that nearly 1.3 million of America’s 21 million veterans live in Illinois and Missouri.”
In an interview Tuesday, Clay told the Beacon that the bridge should be named for Musial not only for his baseball achievements but for “his leadership off the field for equal justice” for black players, including Jackie Robinson.
“Musial stood with the greats like Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and did not shy away from the fight” to accept minority players in the major leagues.
In her speech, Wagner praised Musial as “a great patriot,” who left baseball in 1944 to join the Navy during World War II. He was not only one of the greatest baseball players of all time, she said, but was “an exemplary human being . . . He was our neighbor and he was our friend.”
Enyart, whose district includes Scott Air Force Base, said he was pleased to honor both veterans and Musial with the bridge’s name. He called the bill “a compromise measure to name an extraordinary structure in honor of extraordinary heroes."
Noting that his district in southwest Illinois had “one of the highest percentages of veterans” in the country, Enyart said he was proud that the bridge’s new name “recognizes not only Stan Musial but all of our nation’s veterans.”
He said of Musial: “He wore only two uniforms: one for the baseball team he loved and one for the country he loved.”
This was not the first time that the name for the bridge was debated. A couple of years ago, several local leaders had suggested naming the bridge after former U.S. Reps. William Clay Sr. and Jerry Costello of Belleville. But, after Musial’s death earlier this year, public opinion shifted in favor of naming the span after Stan.
After the House vote, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she expected the Senate to act -- to add the word "veterans" to the bridge's new name -- by the end of the week.
“This effort has always been about honoring a St. Louis hero, and I’m thrilled we’re on the cusp of doing just that,” McCaskill said. “But I won’t stop until the job is done — and that’s something I expect to happen very soon.”