WASHINGTON — One day after President Bush awarded the coveted Medal of Honor to the family of a Marine who died after throwing his helmet and his body on a grenade in Iraq, a California congressman introduced a bill to require the Pentagon to put more real gold in the medal.
"For those very few soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deemed worthy of our nation's highest military honor, surely we can afford more than a $30 medal," Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto) said.
Baca, a former Army paratrooper who served with the 101st and the 82nd Airborne divisions in the Vietnam era but never saw combat, has introduced the bill every year since he came to Congress in 2000.
Baca -- who opposed the Iraq war -- instructed his staff to find out how much gold was in the Medal of Honor, which has been awarded to only two service members in Iraq: Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith and Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham.
Baca's staff discovered that the medals, which vary in design, size and composition, were made of brass and covered in gold.
The Army's version costs $29.98; the Air Force's more elaborate design costs $75.
Both versions pale next to the $30,000 Congressional Gold Medal. That award, which Congress gives with some frequency to celebrities and dignitaries, is 90% gold.
"The medal we gave to Frank Sinatra is worth 1,000 times more than the ones we give our heroes in uniform," Baca said in a telephone interview as he flew home to California at the end of the Democrats' first full week in power. "Ain't that a shame?"
Baca's bill would require the military to make its Medal of Honor with the same percentage of gold as the congressional one.
The Pentagon opposes the idea, which Baca said would cost $2 million over the next five years, arguing that the Medal of Honor has a treasured design and storied history that transcends its composition.
"The true beauty of the Medal of Honor is reflected in both the detailed heraldic design and the quality of the manufacturing process," Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart T. Upton said in an e-mail. "Since its creation during the Civil War, the Medal of Honor has always been recognized by its rich dark bronze patina and distinct method of display on the neck of the recipient."
The metal used to make the medal, he added, "adds no value to the medal's prestige or historical significance."