Friday, February 11, 2011


Bonus Army Conflict

Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats, Washington, DC, burning after the battle with the military, 1932. The Capitol building can be seen in the background.

Date July 28, 1932
Location Washington D.C., United States of America
Result Bonus Army dispersed, demands rejected

Bonus Army United States Army
Commanders and leaders
Walter W. Waters
William Hushka †
Eric Carlson †

Herbert Hoover
Douglas MacArthur
Dwight D. Eisenhower
George S. Patton

17,000 2 regiments

Casualties and losses
4 dead; 1,017 injured At least 69 police injured

The self-named Bonus Expeditionary Force was an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who protested in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932. Called the Bonus March by the news media, the Bonus Marchers were more popularly known as the Bonus Army. It was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant. The veterans were encouraged in their demand for immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time.

Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each Service Certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their Certificates.

On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the army to clear the veterans' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

A second, smaller Bonus March in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt Administration was defused with promises instead of military action.

In 1936, a Democratic-led Congress overrode President Franklin D. Roosevelt's veto to pay the veterans their bonus years early.

BackgroundIn 1781, most of the Continental Army was demobilized without pay. Two years later hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia, then the capital, surrounded the State House where the U.S. Congress was in session, and demanded their pay. Congress fled to Princeton, New Jersey, and several weeks later, the U.S. Army expelled the war veterans from the national capital. In response to that experience, the federal district directly governed by the U.S. Congress,[1] Washington, D.C., was excluded from the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act which forbade the use of the U.S. military for domestic police activity.

The practice of war-time military bonuses began in 1776, as payment for the difference between what a soldier earned and what he could have earned had he not enlisted.[2] Breaking with tradition, the veterans of the Spanish-American War did not receive a bonus and, after World War One, their not receiving a military service bonus became a political matter when WWI veterans received only a $60 bonus. The American Legion, created in 1919, led a political movement for an additional bonus.[3]

On May 15, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed a bill granting bonuses to veterans of World War I saying: "patriotism... bought and paid for is not patriotism." Congress overrode his veto a few days later,[3] enacting the World War Adjusted Compensation Act. Each veteran was to receive a dollar for each day of domestic service, up to a maximum of $500, and $1.25 for each day of overseas service, up to a maximum of $625. Amounts of $50 or less were immediately paid. All other amounts were issued as Certificates of Service maturing in 20 years.[4]

Some 3,662,374 military service certificates were issued, with a face value of $3.638 billion. Congress established a trust fund to receive 20 annual payments of $112 million that, with interest, would finance the 1945 disbursement of the $3.638 billion due to the veterans. Meanwhile, veterans could borrow up to 22.5% of the certificate's face value from the fund.[citation needed] In 1931, because of the Great Depression, Congress increased the maximum value of such loans to 50% of the certificate's face value.[5] By April 1932, loans amounting to $1.248 billion had been made.[citation needed] Although there was Congressional support for the immediate redemption of the military service certificates, President Hoover and Republican congressmen opposed such action, because the government would have to increase taxes to cover the costs of the payout, and that would slow the recovery.[6]

The Veterans of Foreign Wars continued to press the federal government to allow the early redemption of military service certificates.[7]

MarchOn June 15, the House of Representatives passed the Wright Patman Bonus Bill which would have moved forward the date for World War I veterans to receive their cash bonus.

Most of the Bonus Army camped in a Hooverville on the Anacostia Flats, a swampy, muddy area across the Anacostia River from the federal core of Washington, just south of the 11th Street Bridges (now Section C of Anacostia Park). The camps, built from materials scavenged from a nearby rubbish dump, were tightly controlled by the veterans who laid out streets, built sanitation facilities, and held daily parades. To live in the camps, veterans were required to register and prove they had been honorably discharged.

The Bonus Army massed at the United States Capitol on June 17 as the U.S. Senate defeated the Bonus Bill by a vote of 62-18.

[edit] U.S. Army interventionThe marchers remained at their campsite waiting for President Hoover act. On July 28, 1932, Attorney General Mitchell ordered the police evacuation of the Bonus Army veterans. When the veterans moved back into their old camp, they rushed two policeman trapped on the second floor of a building. The cornered police drew their revolvers and shot two veterans, William Hushka and Eric Carlson, who died later.[8] When told of this, President Hoover ordered the army to effect the evacuation of the Bonus Army from Washington.

At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch. The Bonus Marchers, believing the troops were marching in their honor, cheered the troops until Maj. Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the civil service spectators to yell, "Shame! Shame!"

After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, an arsenical vomiting agent, entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. However Gen. MacArthur, feeling this exercise was a Communist attempt at overthrowing the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty five veterans were injured and 135 arrested.[8] A veteran's wife miscarried. The infant, Bernard Myers, died in the hospital after the incident, but reports indicated the death was not caused by the evacuation of the BEF.

During the evacuation, Major, later President, Dwight D. Eisenhower served as MacArthur's liaison with the Washington police.

AftermathMGM released the movie Gabriel Over the White House in March 1933. Produced by William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures, it depicted a fictitious President Hammond who, in the film's opening scenes, refuses to deploy the military against a march of the unemployed and instead creates an "Army of Construction" that will work on public works projects until the economy recovers.[9] First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt judged the movie's treatment of veterans superior to Hoover's.[10]

During the presidential campaign of 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt opposed the veterans' bonus demands.[11] When they organized a second demonstration in May 1933, he provided the marchers with a campsite in Virginia and provided them 3 meals a day. Administration officials, led by presidential confidant Louis Howe, tried to negotiate an end to the protest. Roosevelt arranged for his wife Eleanor to visit the site unaccompanied. She lunched with the veterans and listened to them perform songs. She reminisced about her memories of seeing troops off to World War I and welcoming them home. The most she could offer was a promise of positions in the newly created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).[10] One veteran commented: "Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife." In a press conference following her visit, the First Lady described her reception as courteous and praised the marchers, highlighting how comfortable she felt despite critics of the marchers who described them as Communists and criminals.[10]

Roosevelt later issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the CCC, exempting them from the normal requirement that applicants be unmarried and under the age of 25.[12] Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act in 1936 authorizing the immediate payment of the $2 billion in WWI bonuses over the President's veto.[13]

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