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The Bonus Marchers (1932) (Classroom Activity)

The Bonus Marchers (1932) (Classroom Activity)


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In May 1924 Congress voted $3,500,000,000 to the American veterans of the First World War. President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the bill saying: "patriotism... bought and paid for is not patriotism." However, Congress overrode his veto a few days later, 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.

In order to prevent an immediate strain on its funds, the Government decided to pay the money over a 20 year period. During the Great Depression, many of these veterans found it difficult to find work. An increasing number came to the conclusion that the money would be more useful to them in this time of need than when the bonus was due. As Jim Sheridan pointed out: "The soldiers were walking the streets, the fellas who had fought for democracy in Germany. They thought they should get the bonus right then and there because they needed the money."

In 1932 John Patman of Texas, introduced the Veteran's Bonus Bill which mandated the immediate cash payment of the endowment promised to the men who fought in the war. Although there was congressional support for the immediate redemption of the military service certificates, President Herbert Hoover opposed such action claiming that the government would have to increase taxes to cover the costs of the payout.

In May 1932, 10,000 of these ex-soldiers marched on Washington in an attempt to persuade Congress to pass the Patman Bill. When they arrived in the capital the Bonus Marchers camped at Anacostia Flats, an area that had formerly been used as an army recruiting centre. They built temporary homes on the site and threatened to stay there until they received payment of money granted to them by Congress. It was clear that the veteran camp was a source of great embarrassment to Hoover and provided further proof of the government's callous unconcern for the plight of the people."

I have given thought to your request that I should express to you and the Senate Finance Committee my views upon the bill passed by the House of Representatives, increasing the loans to World War veterans upon the so-called bonus certificates. In view of the short time remaining in this session for its consideration I shall comply with your request.

The proposal is to authorize loans upon these certificates up to 50% of their face value. And to avoid confusion it must be understood that the “face value” is the sum payable at the end of the 20 years period (1945) being based on the additional compensation to veterans of about $1,300,000,000 granted about six years ago, plus 25% for deferment, plus 4% compound interest for the 20 year period. As the “face value” is about $3,423,000,000, loans at 50% thus create a potential liability for the Government of about $1,172,000,000, and, less the loans made under the original Act, the total cash which might be required to be raised by the Treasury is about $1,280,000,000 if all should apply. The Administrator of Veterans' Affairs informs me by the attached letter that he estimates that if present conditions continue, then 75% of the veterans may be expected to claim the loans, or a sum of approximately $1,000,000,000 will need to be raised by the Treasury...

The one appealing argument for this legislation is for veterans in distress. The welfare of the veterans as a class is inseparable from that of the country. Placing a strain on the savings needed for rehabilitation of employment by a measure which calls upon the Government for a vast sum beyond the call of distress, and so adversely affecting our general situation, will in my view not only nullify the benefits to the veteran but inflict injury to the country as a whole.

For some days police authorities and Treasury officials have been endeavoring to persuade the so-called bonus marchers to evacuate certain buildings which they were occupying without permission. These buildings are on sites where Government construction is in progress and their demolition was necessary in order to extend employment in the District to carry forward the Government's construction program.

This morning the occupants of these buildings were notified to evacuate and at the request of the police did evacuate the buildings concerned. Thereafter, however, several thousand men from different camps marched in and attacked the police with brickbats and otherwise injured several policemen, one probably fatally.

I have received the attached letter from the Commissioners of the District of Columbia stating that they can no longer preserve law and order in the District.

In order to put an end to this rioting and defiance of civil authority, I have asked the Army to assist the District authorities to restore order.

Congress made provision for the return home of the so-called bonus marchers who have for many weeks been given every opportunity of free assembly, free speech and free petition to the Congress. Some 5,000 took advantage of this arrangement and have returned to their homes. An examination of a large number of names discloses the fact that a considerable part of those remaining are not veterans; many are communists and persons with criminal records.

The veterans amongst these numbers are no doubt aware of the character of their companions and are being led into violence which no government can tolerate.

A bunch of out-of-work ex-service men in Portland, Oregon, figured they needed their bonus now; 1945 would be too late, only buy wreaths for their tombstones. They figured out, too, that the bonus paid now would tend to liven up business, particularly the retail business in small towns; might be just enough to tide them over till things picked up. So three hundred of them started east in old cars and trucks, hitchhiking, riding on freight trains.

By the time they reached Council Buffs (Iowa) they found other groups all over the country were rebelling against their veterans' organizations and getting the same idea. It was an Army. They organized it as such and nicknamed it the Bonus Expedition Force.

The question was now: How were they going to get them out of Washington? They were ordered out four or five times, and they refused. The police chief *as called to send them out, but he refused.... Finally, the one they did get to shove these bedraggled ex-servicemen out of Washington was none other than the great MacArthur.... When these ex-soldiers wouldn't move, they'd poke them with their bayonets, and hit them on the head with the butt of a rifle.

When the army appeared, the bonus people, who were in these old buildings, started beating on tin pans and shouted; "Here come our buddies". They expected the army to be in sympathy with them. ... The 12th Infantry was in full battle dress. Each had a gas mask and his belt was full of tear gas bombs.... Soon, almost everybody disappeared from view, because tear gas bombs exploded.... Flames were coming up, where the soldiers had set fire to the buildings to drive these people out.

When war came in 1917 William Hushka, 22-year-old Lithuanian, sold his St. Louis butcher shop, gave the proceeds to his wife, joined the Army. He was sent to Camp Funston, Kansas where he was naturalized. Honorably discharged in 1919, he drifted to Chicago, worked as a butcher, seemed unable to hold a steady job. His wife divorced him, kept his small daughter.

Long jobless, in June he joined a band of veterans marching to Washington to fuse with the Bonus Expeditionary Force. "I might as well starve there as here", he told his brother. He took part in the demonstration at the Capital the day Congress adjourned without voting immediate cashing of the bonus.

Last week William Hushka's Bonus for $528 suddenly became payable in full when a police bullet drilled him dead in the worst public disorder the capital has known in years.

A few weeks later there was more talk of revolution when the Bonus Expeditionary Force descended on Washington. The BEF was a tattered army consisting of veterans from every state in the Union; most of them were old-stock Americans from smaller industrial cities where relief had broken down. All unemployed in 1932, all living on the edge of hunger, they remembered that the government had made them a promise for the future. It was embodied in a law that Congress had passed some years before, providing "adjusted compensation certificates" for those who had served in the Great War; the certificates were to be redeemed in dollars, but not until 1945. Now the veterans were hitchhiking and stealing rides on freight cars to Washington, for the sole purpose, they declared, of petitioning Congress for immediate payment of the soldiers' bonus. They arrived by hundreds or thousands every day in June. Ten thousand were camped on marshy ground across the Anacostia River, and ten thousand others occupied a number of half-demolished buildings between the Capitol and the White House. They organized themselves by states and companies and chose a commander named Walter W. Waters, an ex-sergeant from Portland. Oregon, who promptly acquired an aide-de-camp and a pair of highly polished leather puttees. Meanwhile the veterans were listening to speakers of all political complexions, as the Russian soldiers had done in 1917. Many radicals and some conservatives thought that the Bonus Army was creating a revolutionary situation of an almost classical type.

A challenge to the authority of the United States Government has been met, swiftly and firmly.

After months of patient indulgence, the Government met overt lawlessness as it always must be met if the cherished processes of self-government are to be preserved. We cannot tolerate the abuse of Constitutional rights by those who would destroy all government, no matter who they may be. Government cannot be coerced by mob rule.

The Department of Justice is pressing its investigation into the violence which forced the call for Army detachments, and it is my sincere hope that those agitators who inspired yesterday's attack upon the Federal authority may be brought speedily to trial in the civil courts. There can be no safe harbor in the United States of America for violence.

Order and civil tranquility are the first requisites in the great task of economic reconstruction to which our whole people now are devoting their heroic and noble energies. This national effort must not be retarded in even the slightest degree by organized lawlessness. The first obligation of my office is to uphold and defend the Constitution and the authority of the law. This I propose always to do.

Questions for Students

Question 1: According to source 5, how would the payment of the war bonus help the American economy?

Question 2: Describe source 7 from the point of view of: (a) an observer hostile to the Bonus Marchers; (b) an observer sympathetic to the Bonus Marchers.

Question 3: How does the author of source 9 encourage the reader to feel sorry for William Hushka?

Question 4: Find evidence in source 8 that shows the author supported the Bonus Marchers?

Question 5: Explain the meaning of sources 4 and 11.

Question 6: 1932 was a Presidential Election year. Do you think that President Hoover's handling of the Bonus Army won or lost him votes.? Explain the reasons for your decision.

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.


48c. The Bonus March


World War I veterans block the steps of the Capitol during the Bonus March, July 5, 1932.

Many in America wondered if the nation would survive.

Although the United States had little history of massive social upheaval or coup attempts against the government, hunger has an ominous way of stirring those passions among any population. As bread riots and shantytowns grew in number, many began to seek alternatives to the status quo. Demonstrations in the nation's capital increased, as Americans grew increasingly weary with President Hoover's perceived inaction. The demonstration that drew the most national attention was the Bonus Army march of 1932.

In 1924, Congress rewarded veterans of World War I with certificates redeemable in 1945 for $1,000 each. By 1932, many of these former servicemen had lost their jobs and fortunes in the early days of the Depression. They asked Congress to redeem their Bonus certificates early.


Workers and their unions fought poor working conditions by walking off the job. Violence often erupted when factory owners tried to break the "strike." These broken windows are a result of the Flint, Michigan, sit-down strike of 1936-37.

Led by Walter Waters of Oregon, the so-called Bonus Expeditionary Force set out for the nation's capital. Hitching rides, hopping trains, and hiking finally brought the Bonus Army, now 15,000 strong, into the capital in June 1932. Although President Hoover refused to address them, the veterans did find an audience with a congressional delegation. Soon a debate began in the Congress over whether to meet the demonstrators' demands.

As deliberation continued on Capitol Hill, the Bonus Army built a shantytown across the Potomac River in Anacostia Flats . When the Senate rejected their demands on June 17, most of the veterans dejectedly returned home. But several thousand remained in the capital with their families. Many had nowhere else to go. The Bonus Army conducted itself with decorum and spent their vigil unarmed.


Conditions during the Depression were so bad that some city governments devised programs that had the unemployed selling apples to make a living. This man was one of nearly 700 apple vendors in Detroit.

However, many believed them a threat to national security. On July 28, Washington police began to clear the demonstrators out of the capital. Two men were killed as tear gas and bayonets assailed the Bonus Marchers. Fearing rising disorder, Hoover ordered an army regiment into the city, under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur. The army, complete with infantry, cavalry, and tanks, rolled into Anacostia Flats forcing the Bonus Army to flee. MacArthur then ordered the shanty settlements burned.

Many Americans were outraged. How could the army treat veterans of the Great War with such disrespect? Hoover maintained that political agitators, anarchists, and communists dominated the mob. But facts contradict his claims. Nine out of ten Bonus Marchers were indeed veterans, and 20% were disabled. Despite the fact that the Bonus Army was the largest march on Washington up to that point in history, Hoover and MacArthur clearly overestimated the threat posed to national security. As Hoover campaigned for reelection that summer, his actions turned an already sour public opinion of him even further bottomward.


As the Great War ended, veterans returned home to find an America that seemed unprepared for them. Fueled by the labor of those who had stayed behind, including women and children, industry had flourished in their absence. Even organized labor&mdashcapitalizing on the shortage of workers&mdashsqueezed higher wages and benefits from the Wilson wartime administration. Still, many returning veterans found themselves marginalized and ignored in the roar of the 󈧘s.

In 1924, under pressure from veterans organizations to provide some compensation, Congress passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act, known as the Bonus Act because it delivered a “bonus” to wartime veterans&mdashroughly $1 for each day of service and $1.25 for days spent “over there.” Like President Warren G. Harding, who had vetoed similar legislation two years earlier, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the Bonus Act, adding an acid assessment: “Patriotism … bought and paid for is not patriotism.”

The Bonus Act became law when Congress overrode his veto, but its provisions were still less than ideal. Most veterans would not receive cash but instead government-backed certificates that wouldn’t mature until 1945. And as the national economy lapsed into the Great Depression, veterans began to plead with Congress to authorize an earlier payout to help preserve their homes and farms.

In May 1932, a modest call to action in Washington, D.C., by a group of veterans from Oregon swelled to an angry migration. Over the next few months, thousands of veterans descended upon the city, settling in a makeshift town of tents and shacks on the banks of the Anacostia River. As the camp grew, the veterans organized, electing officers and vetting newcomers to ensure they were veterans, creating the so-called Bonus Expeditionary Force to lobby and march.

In June, despite intense pressures, the Senate voted down an early bonus payout. And as the legislature prepared to adjourn, local demands to disperse the force, aka the Bonus Army, began to grow. On July 28, two veterans were shot and killed by local police attempting to evict them from a condemned building. Seizing the moment, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur mustered a small army of troops on the grounds behind the White House.

Having convinced himself that the veterans were intent on insurrection, MacArthur ignored both the advice of his junior officers and orders from President Herbert Hoover not to enter the camps. With a squadron of cavalry, machine gun units, six tanks and a battalion of soldiers, MacArthur advanced across the river where his soldiers&mdasharmed with live rounds, bayonets and noxious gases&mdashrouted the defenseless veterans and set fire to Bonus City. Dwight Eisenhower, a MacArthur aide, later spoke bitterly of the shameless assault. “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch he had no business going down there. I told him it was no place for the chief of staff.”

A similar public reaction, bitter and broad, carried into the 1932 presidential election. Hoover stood by MacArthur and lost the election&mdashthough candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt also opposed early bonus payments. In 1936, overriding a presidential veto, Congress authorized early redemption of bonus certificates.

Memory of the Bonus March attacks, still fresh when a new generation of veterans returned from World War II, aided passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. More commonly known as the GI Bill, it was signed into law by Roosevelt in 1944.


Bonus March

Introduction: Following WWI, a pension was promised all returning service men to be administered in 1945. As the Great Depression took shape, many WWI veterans found themselves out of work, and an estimated 17,000 traveled to Washington, D.C. in May 1932 to put pressure on Congress to pay their cash bonus immediately. The former soldiers created camps in the Nation’s capital when they did not receive their bonuses which led to their forcible removal by the Army and the bulldozing of their settlements.

The Veteran’s Affairs Department, the Roaring 20’s, and the Great Depression

The Veteran’s Affairs department of the United States was created in 1917 based on previous service-provider groups for former soldiers dating back to the revolutionary war. While medical services and compensation for injured and disabled veterans were first priority, it was decided by Congress to provide cash bonuses for WWI veterans beginning in 1945. President Coolidge unsuccessfully vetoed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act, and debate was extended, yet veterans during the 1920’s were in an age of endless prosperity.

When the Great Depression hit, veterans were desperate for relief, and some had only the promise of their 1945 pension left after the loss of their life’s savings. By May of 1932, the “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” a group estimated to be at least 15,000 veterans organized by Walter Waters, had caught the attention of law-makers. On June 17, the Senate failed to pass the bill sent from the House.

The gathering of WWI veterans and their families became known as the “Bonus March,” and throughout the city were shabbily made shelters, as an estimated 30,000 others had also traveled D.C. to make their presence known. Those that had marched victoriously down Pennsylvania Ave. at the end of WWI now lived a bleak existence in our nation’s capital, some clothed in scraps of their old uniforms.

One individual who was an eyewitness was the wife of the Washington Post’s owner, Evalyn Walsh McLean. She describes a pick-up truck convoy packed with veterans and crowds with plain evidence of hunger in their faces.1 Some had come with their families, and many in the D.C. community offered aid including McLean. To the shock of a local deli, McLean ordered a thousand sandwiches and bought a thousand packs of cigarettes while the superintendent of the Washington police provided coffee for the crowds.

Eleven days after Congress failed to compensate the “Bonus Army,” General Douglas MacArthur and the Army were ordered by President Hoover to drive the camp inhabitants away and bulldoze their settlements after riots erupted. No shots were fired but the group was increasingly becoming a danger to the safety of the District, and the Howell bill was passed to provide transportation money to the marchers and their families for the trip home. The “Bonus Army” did receive their full compensation earlier than planned when Congress overrode the veto of President Roosevelt in 1936.

The Legacy of the Bonus March on Social Policy

When the U.S. became involved in WWII, the Veteran’s Affairs administration once again hoped to set up benefits for those who served. There was greater movement among the public and legislators to ensure the well-being of veterans, especially those that recalled the “Bonus March” crisis. This tragic incident was a contributing factor to the expansion of VA services including the influential GI Bill of Rights of 1944.

1. Father Struck it Rich by Evalyn Walsh McClean. New York: Arno Press, 1975: 302.

The Bonus March: An Episode of the Great Depression by Roger Daniels. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1971.

7 Replies to &ldquoBonus March&rdquo

Our heartfelt gratitude to Michael J. Barga and Jack Hansan for their efforts in presenting
this article, and attempting to keep a bright light shone on the historical plight
of the American War Veteran!

This is the first time I ever heard that, “no shots were fired,” when MacArthur’s troops
forcibly evicted the Bonus Army. Newsreel photographs clearly show active-duty soldiers
set afire the Veterans’ shacks & shanties, as we witness flames and beatings within view
of the Capitol Dome itself!
Every single other account that I have ever heard throughout my life since the 1960s
clearly stated that, in no uncertain terms, American War Veterans died there that day
at the hands of their government. Nonetheless, I welcome and heartily applaud your article. By this event, such as these shanty towns & tent cities were dubbed, “Hoovervilles,”
in infamy for decades.

For all who see it, one movie’s 7-minute finale haunts the conscience of America to this day.
It is as true today for the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (see: IAVA.org)
as it ever has been for the Veteran of every one of America’s Wars, clear back to the
Revolution. It can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzMy7-7WV44
It is called, “Remember My Forgotton Man,” from, “Gold Diggers of 1933.”
Originally made for the giant screen in the theatre, it is best received and understood
when seen full-screen and as large as possible. (Though this clip may be alittle blurry,
a studio DVD copy is crystal-clear and quite powerful.)

Christopher Joseph . . .
Tampa, Florida

Thank you for the warm compliment. Best wishes, Jack Hansan

i am doing a school research paper on the Bonus Army and found this artical very helpful and informative. Thank you!

For all who see it, one movie’s 7-minute finale haunts the conscience of America to this day.
Presented a year after the Bonus Army’s subjugation,
it is as true today for the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (see: IAVA.org)
as it ever has been for the Veteran of every one of America’s Wars, clear back to the
Revolution. It can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzMy7-7WV44
It is called, “Remember My Forgotton Man,” from, “Gold Diggers of 1933.”
Originally made for the giant screen in the theatre, it is best received and understood
when seen full-screen and as large as possible. (Though this clip may be alittle blurry,
a studio DVD copy is crystal-clear and quite powerful.)

I had never read about this in history books in school. Talk show host Michael Savage spoke about this tonight on his radio show. My maternal grandfather fought in Spain and also was in WW1. I have very little of him. He died in 1972. His name is mentioned in the book, ” Soldiers of the Good Fight.” He also was a member of the ALBA. I have three nephews in the Armed Forces of America , young , not married. My Father died from wounds he received in the Battle of the Bulge in WW11. He was a Notre Dame graduate 1940..joined the Army ,as did all the fine young men. He died in 1949. I was almost four years old. I found the article very interesting indeed. Sincerely, Claudia Ruth Archer

Thank you for the comment. I hope you continue to find time to read entries on the SWH web site. Sincerely, Jack Hansan


From Ho-Hum History Lesson to Engaging Investigation

EducationWorld is committed to bringing educators the practical tools they need to make good decisions, engage in effective leadership and implement strategies that work. To further this commitment, we have formed a content partnership with Stenhouse Publishers. EducationWorld is pleased to feature a variety of book excerpts as part of this collaboration. Check back frequently as we feature additional excerpts from Stenhouse titles.

The following excerpt comes from “Why Won't You Just Tell Us the Answer?” Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12, by Bruce Lesh (Stenhouse Publishers, 2011). The book retails for $22 and is available on the Stenhouse Web site.

Using the Bonus Army lesson, this excerpt walks you through how to meld content and historical thinking by creating a historical investigation. Read another excerpt from this book: Teaching Continuity and Change: History of the Pledge of Allegiance.

When first researching the Bonus Army in preparation for developing a historical investigation, I was surprised to find that there was much more to the story than presented by the sentence and picture that appear in most textbooks. (Editor's Note: The “Bonus Army” was the popular name of a group of more than 40,000 marchers— including World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in 1932. Many veterans had been unemployed since the beginning of the Great Depression, and although the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates, they could not redeem them until 1945. The marchers demanded immediate cash-payment redemption of these certificates.)

Within this event lay the inevitable debate among historians about causality. In this case it was not a debate over the causes of the marchers’ discontent. Instead, it was the question of why the marchers were forcibly removed from Washington, D.C., and the degree to which those actions were the result of a disobedient military general or a legitimate fear about the influence of Communism on the protesting veterans.

The Web being my friend, and unfortunately sometimes my enemy, I quickly found a treasure trove of sources that provided insight into the historical debate about the removal of the marchers. One great source is The History Project, with materials used by University of California at Davis professor Roland Marchand, a college professor whose approach to teaching the past was in some ways consistent with the one I was attempting to foster in my own classroom. Marchand’s resources are clustered around a historical question. One of the questions he posed was about the ill-fated efforts of Walter Waters’s veterans. Marchand’s resources were complemented by those on the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Web site as well as a variety of other online repositories.

Roads I Should Not Have Taken

About Stenhouse Publishers

Stenhouse publishes professional development books and videos by teachers and for teachers. Their titles cover a range of content areas -- from literacy and mathematics to science, social studies, the arts, and environmental education -- as well as a variety of topics, including classroom management, assessment, and differentiation.

Because this was one of the first lessons I designed to meld content and historical thinking, it has undergone numerous revisions. My first mistake was to focus on the wrong question. My first two years teaching the lesson I asked the students to determine what had happened to the Bonus Marchers and why. The answer to the first part was so easy that it blunted the depth of student investigation of the second part. In addition, what happened really was not in dispute—they were forcibly removed by a combination of the Metropolitan Police and the United States military. After rethinking the results of the investigation, I focused the question on why the Bonus Army was removed. This provided a narrower focus for students to investigate—always key to a high-quality experience for students—and required them to ask critical questions of the sources.

The second major adjustment I made to this investigation is the number and type of sources I use. As the volume of digitized sources increases, the Web has become a gold mine of materials for teachers. A simple search for “Bonus Army Primary Sources” can reveal several hours’ worth of letters, telegrams, newspaper and magazine articles, political cartoons, and numerous other historical sources. Unfortunately, when designing a historical investigation, not every source is created equal. Some sources, though interesting and informative, distract rather than assist students’ investigation of a historical question. In addition, too many sources can overwhelm students as they sift through the evidence, consider each source and how it may affect the information provided, and begin to develop and apply the evidence to the historical problem at hand. Over the years I have found that limiting investigations to about eight sources helps students focus and reduces my tendency to include all the sources I find interesting. Limiting the number, although artificial to the manner in which historians approach the investigation of a historical problem, nonetheless presents students and teachers with a more manageable task.

Setting the Tone with Music

The current version of the lesson starts with students listening to the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” Music is an amazing tool to use in the classroom, with the caveat that it is not all like the rock-and-roll, pop, and rap music that students are accustomed to hearing. The earliest phases of a history course using music as a source will be dominated by drinking songs, martial songs, and folk music. Danceable they are not, but they are an interesting diversion and an important window into American popular and political culture. Music can form the basis of an investigation. For example, I examine the Ludlow Massacre through Woody Guthrie’s “Ludlow Massacre” or the Detroit race riots of 1967 via “Black Day in July” by Gordon Lightfoot. Aside from forming the central focus of an investigation, songs can also be used as evidence brought to bear on a historical question. In the instance of the Bonus Army, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” provides a perspective both on the deepening economic depression of the 1930s and the plight of these World War I veterans. It also allows me to segue into a homework reading that sets up the finer points about them.

Enhancing the Lesson with Visual Aids

Projecting a series of images helps debrief students’ homework reading on the Bonus Army. While reviewing students reading, I place particular emphasis on the treatment of the army as it arrived in Washington, the relationship between D.C. Police Chief Pelham Glassford and the marchers, and President Hoover’s position on the Bonus Readjustment Act and the marchers. The images draw students into the event, especially pictures of the U.S. military, armed with guns, tanks, and other accoutrements of war, burning the makeshift homes occupied by the remaining marchers.

Analyzing Source Material

After establishing the basics of the march, I pose the questions that will frame their investigation: Why were the marchers forcibly removed, and who should take responsibility for that decision? To facilitate student examination of the questions, I provide one of eight sources (see below). The variety of historical sources encourages students to confront the challenges presented by memoirs, the effect of time on memory, political bias as expressed through journalism, and ultimately what happens when new information is introduced about an old question.

  1. Telegram from Secretary of War Patrick Hurley
  2. Presidential press release one day after the removal of the marchers
  3. General Dwight Eisenhower’s memoirs, written thirty-six years after the event
  4. Excerpt from General George Van Horn Moseley’s unpublished autobiography, written between 1936 and 1938
  5. General Douglas MacArthur’s memoirs, published thirty-two years later
  6. Article from the liberal magazine The Nation
  7. Article from the liberal magazine Harper’s
  8. Speech by Senator Hiram Johnson, a liberal Democrat and supporter of the
    Bonus Bill

When students read and analyze any of these sources, it is important to provide them with a “who’s who” list of the people involved in the Bonus Army situation. Just as one identifies and defines important vocabulary words so that students can comprehend a written passage, students need to be reminded to identify people mentioned in a historical source. Without placing a name into a position and context, writers assume readers already know the individuals and the role they played, an assumption that can be toxic. I always provide a list like the one below when students are reading about a broad issue.


American Experience

Few images from the Great Depression are more indelible than the rout of the Bonus Marchers. At the time, the sight of the federal government turning on its own citizens -- veterans, no less -- raised doubts about the fate of the republic. It still has the power to shock decades later.

Bonus Army marching to the Capitol Washington, D.C. 5 July 1932,. Library of Congress

From the start, 1932 promised to be a difficult year for the country, as the Depression deepened and frustrations mounted. In December of 1931, there was a small, communist-led hunger march on Washington a few weeks later, a Pittsburgh priest led an army of 12,000 jobless men there to agitate for unemployment legislation. In March, a riot at Ford's River Rouge plant in Michigan left four dead and over fifty wounded. Thus, when a band of jobless veterans, led by a former cannery worker named Walter W. Waters, began arriving in the capital in May, tensions were high. Calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces," they demanded early payment of a bonus Congress had promised them for their service in World War I.

Army Chief of Staff MacArthur was convinced that the march was a communist conspiracy to undermine the government of the United States, and that "the movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury." But that was simply not the case. MacArthur's own General Staff intelligence division reported in June that only three of the twenty-six leaders of the Bonus March were communists. And the percentage within the rank and file was likely even smaller several commanders reported to MacArthur that most of the men seemed to be vehemently anti-Communist, if anything. According to journalist and eyewitness Joseph C. Harsch, "This was not a revolutionary situation. This was a bunch of people in great distress wanting help. These were simply veterans from World War I who were out of luck, out of money, and wanted to get their bonus -- and they needed the money at that moment."

At first, it seemed as though order might be maintained. Walters, organizing the various encampments along military lines, announced that there would be "no panhandling, no drinking, no radicalism," and that the marchers were simply "going to stay until the veterans' bill is passed." The government also did its part, as Washington Police Superintendent Pelham D. Glassford treated his fellow veterans with considerable respect and care. But by the end of June, the movement had swelled to more than 20,000 tired, hungry and frustrated men. Conflict was inevitable.

The marchers were encouraged when the House of Representatives passed the Patman veterans bill on June 15, despite President Hoover's vow to veto it. But on June 17 the bill was defeated in the Senate, and tempers began to flare on both sides. On July 21, with the Army preparing to step in at any moment, Glassford was ordered to begin evacuating several buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue, using force if necessary. A week later, on the steamy morning of July 28, several Marchers rushed Glassford's police and began throwing bricks. President Hoover ordered the Secretary of War to "surround the affected area and clear it without delay."

Conspicuously led by MacArthur, Army troops (including Major George S. Patton, Jr.) formed infantry cordons and began pushing the veterans out, destroying their makeshift camps as they went. Although no weapons were fired, cavalry advanced with swords drawn, and some blood was shed. By nightfall, hundreds had been injured by gas (including a baby who died), bricks, clubs, bayonets, and sabers.

Next came the most controversial moment in the whole affair -- a moment that directly involved General MacArthur. Secretary of War Hurley twice sent orders to MacArthur indicating that the President, worried that the government reaction might look overly harsh, did not wish the Army to pursue the Bonus Marchers across the bridge into their main encampment on the other side of the Anacostia River. But MacArthur, according to his aide Dwight Eisenhower, "said he was too busy," did not want to be "bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders," and sent his men across the bridge anyway, after pausing several hours to allow as many people as possible to evacuate. A fire soon erupted in the camp. While it's not clear which side started the blaze, the sight of the great fire became the signature image of the greatest unrest our nation's capital has ever known.

Although many Americans applauded the government's action as an unfortunate but necessary move to maintain law and order, most of the press was less sympathetic. "Flames rose high over the desolate Anacostia flats at midnight tonight," read the first sentence of the "New York Times" account, "and a pitiful stream of refugee veterans of the World War walked out of their home of the past two months, going they knew not where."


The Bonus Marchers (1932) (Classroom Activity) - History

Amelia Earheart flies across Atlantic - the pioneering aviatrix became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean

Aviation phenomenon Amelia Earhart first made headlines in 1928 when she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic as a passenger on a trans-Atlantic airplane flight. Though she received international fame, Earhart did not think she deserved it &ldquoI was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes,&rdquo she remarked.

Four years later, Earhart attempted to make the flight on her own. Just one person, Charles Lindbergh, had flown solo across the Atlantic. A female aviator, Ruth Nichols, had attempted the flight in 1931, but had crashed in Canada.

On May 20, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh&rsquos flight, Earhart took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, in her red Lockheed Vega 5B. She encountered many difficulties &ldquoEarhart fought fatigue, a leaky fuel tank, and a cracked manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling,&rdquo writes the Smithsonian Institution&rsquos National Air and Space Museum. &ldquoIce formed on the Vega's wings and caused an unstoppable 3,000-foot descent to just above the waves.&rdquo

She had planned to fly to Paris&mdashthe same destination as Lindbergh&mdashbut the weather and mechanical problems forced her to land at a farm near Derry, Ireland, completing the flight in 14 hours and 56 minutes. She described her landing in a pasture: &ldquoAfter scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood, I pulled up in a farmer&rsquos back yard.&rdquo

&ldquoMany have said that the last great spectacular feat of this sort which remained in aviation would be a solitary Atlantic crossing by a woman,&rdquo the Manchester Guardian wrote. &ldquoWithout male or other assistance, but relying on her own ability as a pilot, her own skill in the extremely difficult navigation which the Atlantic demands, she has succeeded in proving that the flight is not beyond the knowledge and the capacity for sustained endurance which a woman can acquire.&rdquo

Earhart was lavished with honors, receiving a tickertape parade in New York and being awarded a National Geographic Society medal by President Hoover and the Distinguished Flying Cross by Congress.

Her flying career ended with her disappearance in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were flying from Lae, New Guinea, to the Pacific Ocean island of Howland in one of the final legs of the flight. Despite massive search and rescue missions, her body was never found. The cause of her disappearance and her ultimate fate remain a mystery.

Earhart&rsquos disappearance spawned countless theories involving radio problems, poor communication, navigation or pilot skills, other landing sites, spy missions and imprisonment, and even living quietly in New Jersey or on a rubber plantation in the Philippines. The most reasonable explanation, based on the known facts of her flight, is that they were unable to locate Howland Island, ran out of fuel, and ditched into the Pacific Ocean.


Bonus Army WWWI

Organizers called the demonstrators the “Bonus Expeditionary Force”, to echo the name of World War I’s American Expeditionary Forces, while the media referred to them as the “Bonus Army” or “Bonus Marchers”. The contingent was led by Walter W. Waters, a former U.S. Army sergeant.

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.

Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time, visited their camp to back the effort and encourage them.[1] 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.

The breakup of the WWW I veterans was led by:

General Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff and World War I veteran

Majors George Patton

Major Dwight Eisenhower.

MacArthur is considered to have exceeded President Hoover’s intentions [and possibly his explicit instructions] with his heavy-handedness.

They led an army of men supported by six tanks against the Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

A second, smaller Bonus March in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt administration was defused in May with an offer of jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort Hunt, Virginia, which most of the group accepted. Those who chose not to work for the CCC by the May 22 deadline were given transportation home.[2] In 1936, Congress overrode President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s veto and paid the veterans their bonus nine years early.

Veterans up to the rank of major with at least 60 days service each received a dollar for each day of domestic service up to $500 and $1.25 for each day of overseas service up to $625.

Attacking American WWI Veterans

It happened at 4:45 p.m. Wikipedia states that thousands of civil service employees left work early that day, lining the street to watch the confrontation. The Bonus Marchers apparently thought at first, that the troops were marching in their honor. They cheered the troops until Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the spectators to yell, “Shame! Shame!”

After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and Adamsite (DM) 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 the Bonus March was a “Communist” attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack.

Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested. A veteran’s wife miscarried. When 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack, a government investigation reported he died of enteritis, (inflammation of the intestine) while a hospital spokesman said the tear gas “didn’t do it any good.”

[Sources] 1. Great Events VI as reported in The New York Times 2. The photos are from the Library of Congress and National Archives an 3. Wikipedi WWWI Veterans .

Jeff Daley is a decorated Vietnam Veteran that supports veterans and veteran issues when possible.


Bonus Marchers

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"Bonus Army" Storms Capitol, 1932

The Bonus Army or Bonus March or Bonus Expeditionary Force was an assemblage of about 20,000 World War I veterans, their families, and other affiliated groups, who demonstrated in Washington, D.C. during the spring and summer of 1932 seeking immediate payment of a "bonus" granted by the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924 for payment in 1945. They were led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant, and encouraged by an appearance from retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time.

Arrival in Washington
The Bonus Army massed at the United States Capitol on June 17 as the U.S. Senate voted on the Patman Bonus Bill, which would have moved forward the date when World War I veterans received a 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. The protesters had hoped that they could convince Congress make payments that had been granted to veterans immediately, which would have provided relief for the marchers who were unemployed due to the Great Depression. The bill had passed the House of Representatives on June 15 but was blocked in the Senate.

After the defeat of the bill, Congress appropriated funds to pay for the marchers' return home, which some marchers accepted. On July 28, Washington police attempted to remove some remaining Bonus Army protesters from a federal construction site. After police fatally shot two veterans, the protesters assaulted the police with blunt weapons, wounding several of them. After the police retreated, the District of Columbia commissioners informed President Herbert Hoover that they could no longer maintain the peace, whereupon Hoover ordered federal troops to remove the marchers from the general area.


Watch the video: The Bonus March (June 2022).


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