Monday, September 22, 2014

Occupy Washington with the Bonus Expeditionary Force

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

 In 1924, Congress passed, over the president’s veto, the World War Adjustment Compensation Act which promised each veteran $1 for each day of domestic service (up to $500) and $1.25 for each day of overseas service (up to $625).  While veterans due $50 or less were paid out immediately, the rest were issued Certificates of Service set to mature in 20 years (with interest).  Then the economy crashed leading to the Great Depression and veterans asked if they couldn’t just have their money now and forgo the interest.
Notification letter about the War Compensation Adjustment Act
 While the House of Representatives voted in 1932 to give them their money early, the Senate and President Hoover turned them down.  On June 17, 1932, the day the Senate voted down the bill, a group of veterans calling themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force (a call back to the American Expeditionary Force of World War I) marched on Washington.  The 43,000 marchers, made up of 17,000 World War I veterans and their families, were the largest group ever to converge on the city up to that point.  Among them were Tom Jenkins, an out-of-work salesman and World War I veteran, and his wife, Idalene, of Elmira. 

Tom & Idalene Jenkins, ca. 1918

Tom and Idalene went home soon after, but many others chose to stay.  They established a make-shift camp in Anacostia Flats along the Anacostia River across from the capitol.  Although built from scrap, the camp was highly organized and all perspective residents had to register and prove they were honorably discharged veterans.  They stayed throughout the summer. 

The B.E.F. News

On July 28th, the Washington police attempted to remove them and ended up shooting and killing two protestors.  Later that evening, President Hoover sent the 12th Infantry Regiment lead by General Douglas McArthur and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment lead by General George S. Patton to clear the camp.  The BEF thought the army was marching in support until they were fired upon.  Patton and McArthur cleared the camp with tear gas, bayonets and a cavalry charge.  55 veterans were injured, one pregnant woman miscarried, and an infant was killed. 

Protestors on June 17, 1932

Ultimately, the Bonus March proved disastrous for Hoover’s reelection campaign.  When a second march was organized in 1933, President Roosevelt provided the veterans with a safe camp site in Virginia and sent his wife Eleanor to meet with them.  He signed an executive order allowing veterans jobs in the new Civilian Conservation Corps (exempting them from the usual requirements).  The Adjusted Compensation Payments Act of 1936 finally gave them their bonuses.

1 comment:

  1. Dark time in our history when the government shot and killed World War I vets in the nation's capital....always interesting to find how Elmira has people involved in this....