“The whole scene was pitiful.”
July 28 marks the anniversary of the Army’s role in ousting the veterans of World War I from the national capital. The so-called “Bonus Army” was comprised of veterans seeking an early distribution of the bonus that was promised to them by the government to help alleviate the impact of the Great Depression.
What began as a slow trickle of veterans soon swelled into a large, organized group of as many as 20,000 awaiting the vote of Congress on the Patman Bill – which was authorized as a plan in 1924 as a way to compensate veterans for wages lost while they served in the military during the Great War. But payment was to be deferred until 1945. In 1931 Congress overrode a presidential veto to allow half of the amounts to be paid. However, as the economy worsened, that half payment just wasn’t enough.
Walter Waters, a veteran from Oregon, is credited as being the leader of the Bonus Army. With the aid of Pelham Glassford, the superintendent of the city’s police and a former veteran, the veterans were able to obtain food, clothing, medical services, and established an area for shelter along the Anacostia River.
In June, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Patman bill, but the Senate defeated it by a vote of 62 to 18. Many veterans accepted the defeat and, at the expense of the government, went home. Several others, with nowhere else to go, decided to stay. Rumors of Communist involvement fanned the flames, and on July 28 Glassford was ordered by the Secretary of War to clear out the camps. Glassford was seen as a traitor to the veterans and in the ensuing melee, the police opened fire, killing one veteran and mortally wounding another.
President Hoover called out the Army from nearby Fort Myer in a effort to once and for all evict the Bonus Marchers from the city. The Army, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur marched into the city supported by a cavalry unit under Colonel George Patton. At first it appeared that the soldiers, horsemen, and tanks were moving in to support the veterans. Only when the cavalry charged into the Bonus Marchers did the intent of the Army become painfully clear. MacArthur, against the orders of President Hoover followed up the rout by advancing across the Anacostia Bridge into the Bonus Army camp. The camp was summarily burned to the ground…insuring that the veterans could not return.
The plight of the Bonus Army was indeed a black-eye for the Hoover Administration and the Army. Despite his efforts to justify his decision in his memoirs, Hoover would go on to lose the election to Franklin Roosevelt in November of 1932. Oddly enough, Roosevelt too was not in favor of advancing the payments to the veterans, but he did create the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which offered the men employment. Three years later, Congress passed legislation over Roosevelt’s veto to complete the bonus payment, resolving one of the more disturbing issues in American politics.
The government buried the two Bonus Army veterans who were slain by police at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
William Hushka (1895-1932) was an immigrant from Lithuania who, when the US entered World War I, sold his butcher shop in St. Louis and enlisted at the age of 22 as a private in the 41st Infantry. After the war, he lived in Chicago. He was killed instantly by gunfire from the police.
Eric Carlson (1894-1932) was from Oakland, California. He fought in the trenches of France during the war. He was shot and mortally wounded by the police and died later that day.
– Kevin Welker
“The Bonus Army” Eyewitness to History
Kingseed, Wyatt. “A Promise Denied: The Bonus Expeditionary Force.” American History, June 2004, 28-35.
Anne Cady via Find A Grave