U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Suffering through the Great Depression, close to twenty thousand World War I veterans, collectively known as the Bonus Army, descended on Washington, D.C., to demand from the U.S. president and Congress the bonuses promised them for their wartime service.

Summary of Event

In 1932, the United States was suffering through a severe economic downturn called the Great Depression. Millions of citizens were without work, and many of the unemployed were military veterans of World War I. The veterans had been promised by the U.S. government that they would get cash bonuses for their service to the country. Walters, Walter W. Hoover, Herbert [p]Hoover, Herbert;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] MacArthur, Douglas [p]MacArthur, Douglas;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] World War I[World War 01];veterans "Bonus Army"[Bonus Army] Washington, D.C.;Bonus Army [kw]World War I Veterans from Washington, U.S. Troops Drive (July 28, 1932) Walters, Walter W. Hoover, Herbert [p]Hoover, Herbert;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] MacArthur, Douglas [p]MacArthur, Douglas;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] World War I[World War 01];veterans "Bonus Army"[Bonus Army] Washington, D.C.;Bonus Army [g]United States;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] [c]Civil rights and liberties;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] [c]Government;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] [c]Politics;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] [c]Military;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] [c]Social issues and reform;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] [c]Violence;July 28, 1932: U.S. Troops Drive World War I Veterans from Washington[00520] Patton, George S. Butler, Smedley

Bonus Army marchers await the outcome of the U.S. Senate vote on a bill for veterans of World War I.

(U.S. Senate Historical Office)

Given the country’s poor economic conditions, the veterans wanted an immediate cash payment on certificates that had been issued to them under the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924, payable in 1945, some twenty years after their issuance. The law called for the payment of $1.25 for each day served overseas and $1 for each day served state-side. The U.S. Congress proposed that the delay in payment was necessary so that a fund could be established to earn interest until the 1945 payment date. In this way, Congress believed, federal budget planning would not be compromised.

Many prominent Americans supported the veterans’ demand. General Smedley Butler, a decorated U.S. Marine Corps war hero, publicly backed the effort to move the payment of the bonus to 1932. As economic conditions worsened, veterans’ groups soon began to form throughout the United States. They planned to protest to Congress directly. Calling themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” or “Bonus Army,” they traveled in freight cars, in the backs of trucks, and in some cases by foot, and descended on Washington, D.C., beginning in May. Some came from as far away as Portland, Oregon. The veterans, many accompanied by their families and other supporters, established camps across the Anacostia River at Anacostia Flats, adjacent to the capitol building.

At its peak, the number of participants reached close to twenty thousand. The veterans, led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant, organized the encampments along military lines, with strict rules of conduct for all of the participants. Drinking, panhandling, and other types of negative behavior were discouraged. “We’re here for the duration,” Waters said, “and we’re not going to starve. We’re going to keep ourselves a simon-pure [authentic] veteran’s organization. If the bonus is paid it will relieve to a large extent the deplorable economic condition.”

On June 15, in response to the veterans’ demands, the House of Representatives passed the Patman Veterans’ Bill (for Representative Wright Patman), designed to pay the bonuses. Two days later, however, the Senate defeated the proposal. Vocal protests and some violence by the veterans soon followed. Washington police superintendent Pelham D. Glassford Glassford, Pelham D. received orders to begin the removal of the protesting veterans, but only those protestors occupying government buildings in the city itself. In their efforts to clear a federal construction site, the police killed two protestors. In retaliation, protestors began stoning police officers. The District of Columbia commissioners then announced that they could no longer maintain law and order.

U.S. president Herbert Hoover ordered Hurley, Patrick Patrick Hurley, the secretary of war, to initiate a mobilization of the military. Hoover was convinced that some members of the American Communist Party Communist Party;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] as well as a large number of hoodlums and former convicts were behind the Bonus Army protest. The information he received in this regard later proved to be of questionable validity.

On July 28, U.S. Army chief of staff Douglas MacArthur, following Secretary Hurley’s instructions, ordered the Army’s Twelfth Infantry Regiment and the Third Cavalry Regiment (led by another future World War II hero, George S. Patton) to clear out the protesting veterans from the capital. Although not ordered to do so, Major Patton and his troops then crossed the Anacostia River and commenced the destruction of the encampments. Although the troops did not fire their weapons, they did unsheath their bayonets as they pressed into the crowd, and some cavalry units did use their sabers in dispersing the protestors. Blood was spilled as a result.

The camps were soon in flames, set on fire either by troops or the veterans themselves. In the melee, several veterans were killed and hundreds were injured. After the termination of the conflict, the government made provision for the veterans to return to their homes. About six thousand chose to accept the government’s offer.

After some delay, the balance of the Bonus Army left the capital on its own. Although Waters did not accompany them, he did suggest that they reassemble at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, because the mayor there offered them space in his city to assemble. The plan proved to be impractical, however, because the only assistance available was open land for an encampment; the veterans needed more than a place to camp. Waters then sent the word from Washington, D.C., that the veterans should leave Johnstown and return home. The Bonus Expeditionary Force ceased to exist.

Impact

President Hoover’s handling of the Bonus Army’s protest did little to enhance his Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Herbert Hoover[Hoover] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1932 campaign for reelection in November of 1932. The public at large disagreed with his decision to turn down the veterans over his concern for the federal budget. The veterans themselves supported his opponent, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, en masse, and helped propel him to the presidency in the national elections in 1932.

In 1933, following Roosevelt’s inauguration, the veterans again attempted a protest. Roosevelt handled the situation much more effectively, and demonstrations in the capital were kept to a minimum. Still, the Bonus Army’s demands were yet to be met, even by Roosevelt. His administration did launch a work program called the Civilian Conservation Corps, which provided jobs for many of the unemployed, including veterans, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt, Eleanor persuaded a substantial group of veterans to take jobs building a new causeway in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, many of those who accepted the work were killed in the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. The public’s support of the veterans began to increase.

As the country’s mood changed in support of the veterans, Congress passed, over the veto of Roosevelt, the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act of Adjusted Compensation Payment Act of 1936 1936, which authorized the long-sought bonus payments to four million World War I veterans. Several years later, in 1944, Congress would pass the G.I. Bill, which provided an extensive list of benefits for veterans of World War II (and, later, military veterans in general). Benefits included a college education and low-cost home loans. The overall effects of the G.I. Bill proved to be of immense benefit not only for veterans but also for the United States as a whole. The Bonus Army’s legacy includes inspiring the formation of this important veterans’ bill. Walters, Walter W. Hoover, Herbert [p]Hoover, Herbert;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] MacArthur, Douglas [p]MacArthur, Douglas;and Bonus Army[Bonus Army] World War I[World War 01];veterans "Bonus Army"[Bonus Army] Washington, D.C.;Bonus Army

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alter, Jonathan. The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days of Triumph and Hope. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Describes how the newly elected president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, avoided Hoover’s errors in dealing with the Bonus Army.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Daniels, Roger. The Bonus March: An Episode of the Great Depression. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971. A comprehensive look at the Bonus Army protest and march in the context of Depression-era America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dickson, Paul, and Thomas B. Allen. The Bonus Army: An American Epic. New York: Walker, 2005. An updated history of the Bonus Army and its protest, which had a great impact on how the U.S. government came to support military veterans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. A study of the composition of the U.S. Army of World War I, with details of the role of the veterans of that war who made up the Bonus Army of 1932.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lisio, Donald J. The President and Protest: Hoover, MacArthur, and the Bonus Riot. 2d ed. New York: Fordham University Press, 1994. Examines how Hoover approached the Bonus Army’s demands, instructing Douglas MacArthur to quell the protests.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Waters, Walter W., and William C. White. B. E. F.: The Whole Story of the Bonus Army. New York: Arno Press, 1969. This account was written by White and was based upon interviews with Waters, the leader of the Bonus Army.

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