Photograph, b/w. Some of the 8000 veterans waiting on the Capitol steps for the outcome of the vote on the Patman Bonus Bill. In 1924 Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Act aimed at reimbursing servicemen for time they had spent away from home and high-paying wartime jobs during World War I. The Act required the government to give each man an endowment insurance policy cashable twenty years after its 1925 issuance, in 1945. The average ...
Photograph, b/w. Some of the 8000 veterans waiting on the Capitol steps for the outcome of the vote on the Patman Bonus Bill. In 1924 Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Act aimed at reimbursing servicemen for time they had spent away from home and high-paying wartime jobs during World War I. The Act required the government to give each man an endowment insurance policy cashable twenty years after its 1925 issuance, in 1945. The average sum was around five hundred dollars. Added to this would be four percent interest, which by 1945 would result in a cash-in value of about one thousand dollars. Their savings having been wiped out by the Depression, veterans began to argue that they needed the money immediately and that if it were not paid until 1945 the only use for it would be “to buy flowers for the graves of men who had starved to death.” (The Shattered Dream: Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression by Gene Smith, p.127) Veterans began to organize and petition the government for immediate payment of their cash bonus. Walter Waters, a veteran from Portland, Oregon, was nearly destitute by 1932. On March 15 at a meeting of the National Veterans Association in Portland he declared that they should take a freight train to Washington and ask for their money. By May nearly 300 veterans (including some of their wives and children) had loosely organized themselves as the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” or the “Bonus Army”. As they made their way to Washington, D.C. (in empty box cars) their ranks swelled with each stop. In the rail yards they found food contributed by the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. On June 7, joined by other veterans, the group now totaling about 25,000 marchers paraded up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington carrying signs saying “The bonus or the breadline”, “Wilson’s heroes, Hoover’s bums”, and “Our wives and children are crying for our bonus”. The Patman Bonus Bill, which proposed immediate payment of cash to the veterans, was debated, passed in Congress on June 13 but was defeated in the Senate that evening. With the last hope of the bonus gone, many of the men left Washington and on July 22 the rest were told to leave or be forcibly evicted from the camps they had set up. On July 28 the evacuation began calmly but erupted into a riot when a brick was thrown knocking down a policeman. During the short fight that ensued, veteran William Hrushka was shot dead. At this point, the District commissioners asked President Hoover for troops to maintain law and order. General Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army was ordered (by Patrick Hurley, Secretary of War) to proceed with troops to the scene. Apparently, the President wanted the Bonus Army rounded up so their names and fingerprints could be taken and the ringleaders tried. However, MacArthur and Hurley, fearing mob action in the streets, decided to drive them away and scatter the troops. Using cavalry and tear gas canisters flung by the infantry they managed to drive the marchers out of Washington. Against the President’s wishes he followed them to their camp across the Anacostia River and burned it to the ground, driving the remainder of the marchers from the area. Although Hoover had given orders to the contrary, MacArthur called a press conference at midnight and praised the President for giving orders to clear the camp. The President, not wanting to publicly disagree with MacArthur and Hurley, paid a high political price for the incident. Public opinion turned against him and he lost the 1932 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Depression Photo Essay. 16 History; 15 Economics.