Bonus Army

Bonus Army

{{Infobox Military Conflict | |conflict=Bonus Army Conflict |image= |caption=Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats, Washington, DC, burning after the battle with the military, 1932. |date=17 June 1932 |place=Washington D.C., United States of America |casus=Impoverishment of WWI veterans from the Depression |result=Bonus Army dispersed, demands rejected |combatant1=Bonus Army |combatant2=United States Army |commander1=Walter W. Waters |commander2=Herbert Hoover
Douglas MacArthur
Dwight D. Eisenhower
George S. Patton |strength1=17,000 |strength2=2 regiments |casualties1=Refer to Assault
{4 dead; 1,017 injured} |casualties2=At least 12 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 spring and summer of 1932. Called the Bonus March by the news media, the Bonus Marchers were more popularly known as the Bonus Army. The war veterans sought immediate, cash payment of Service Certificates granted them eight years earlier via the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. Each Service Certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment, plus compound interest. The problem was that the certificates (like bonds), matured twenty years from the date of original issuance, thus, under extant law, the Service Certificates were un-redeemable until 1945.

The Bonus Army was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant, and were encouraged in their demand for immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates by retired U.S.M.C. Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, a most popular military man of the time.

The Bonus

The practice of war-time military bonuses (adjusted for rank) began in 1776, as payment for the difference between what a soldier earned and what he could have earned had he not enlisted. Before World War One, the soldier's military service bonus was land and money — a Continental Army private received 100 acres and $80.00 at war's end. In 1855, Congress increased the land-grant minimum to 160 acres, and reduced the eligibility requirements to fourteen days of military service, or one battle; moreover, the bonus also applied to veterans of any Indian war. Breaking with tradition, the veterans of the Spanish-American War received no 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. In 1919, the American Legion was created, and led a political movement for an additional bonus.

In 1924, over-riding President Calvin Coolidge's veto, Congress legislated compensation for veterans to recognise their war-time suffering: receive a dollar for each day of domestic service, to a maximum of $500; and $1.25 for each day of overseas service, to a maximum of $625. Amounts owed of $50 or less were immediately paid; greater sums were issued as certificates of service maturing in 20 years.

Some 3,662,374 military service certificates were issued, with a face value of $3.638 billion dollars. Congress established a trust fund to receive 20 annual payments of $112 million that, with interest, would finance the $3.638 billion dollars owed to the veterans in 1945. Meanwhile, veterans could borrow up to 22.50 per cent of the certificate's face value from the fund, but, in 1931, because of the Great Economic Depression, Congress increased the loan value to 50 per cent of the certificate's face value, yet, by April of 1932, loans amounting to $1.248 billion dollars had been paid, leaving a $2.36-billion-dollar deficit. Although there was Congressional support for the immediate redemption (payment) of the military service certificates, President Hoover and Republican congressmen opposed that, because it would negatively affect the Federal Government's budget and Depression-relief programmes. Meanwhile, veterans organisations pressed the Federal Government to allow the early redemption of their military service certificates.

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, then a swampy, muddy area across the Anacostia River from the federal core of Washington. The camps, built from materials scavenged from a nearby rubbish dump, were tightly controlled by the veterans with streets laid out, sanitation facilities built and parades held daily. To live in the camps, veterans were required to register and prove they had been honorably discharged. The protesters had hoped that they could convince Congress to make payments that would be granted to veterans immediately, which would have provided relief for the marchers who were unemployed due to the Depression. The bill had passed the House of Representatives on June 15 but was blocked in the Senate.

The U.S. Army intervenes

On the 28th of July 1932, Attorney General Mitchell ordered the police evacuation of the Bonus Army veterans, who resisted; the police shot at them, and killed two. When told of the killings, President Hoover ordered the U.S. Army to effect the evacuation of the Bonus Army from Washington, D.C.

At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported with six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, Fort Myer, Virginia, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of Civil Service employees left work to line the street and watch the U.S. Army attack its own veterans. The Bonus Marchers, believing the display was in their honour, cheered the troops until Maj. Patton charged the cavalry against them — to which action the Civil Service employee spectators yelled: "Shame! Shame!" against the charging cavalry. After the cavalry charge, infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, entered the Bonus Army camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River, to their largest camp; President Hoover ordered the Army assault stopped, however, Gen. MacArthur—feeling this free-speech exercise was a Communist attempt at overthrowing the U.S. Government—ignored the President and re-attacked. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several were killed — including William Hushka and Eric Carlson; a veteran's wife miscarried; and many other veterans were hurt. The sight of armed U.S. Army soldiers attacking poor American veterans of the recent Great War later prompted formal veteran relief funds, and, eventually, establishment of the Veterans Administration. (Bonus Army encamped in 1932; Veterans Administration had already been established in 1930. As member of Gen. MacArthur's staff, Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower had strong reservations about routing the anti-Bonus Army.

The Posse Comitatus Act — forbidding civilian police work by the U.S. military — did not apply to Washington, D.C., because it is the federal district directly governed by the U.S. Congress (U.S. Constitution, _Powers_of_Congress. The exemption was created because of an earlier "Bonus March". In 1781, most of the Continental Army was demobilised without pay, two years later, in 1783, hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia, surrounded the State House wherein Congress was in session, and demanded their pay. The U.S. Congress fled to Princeton, New Jersey, and, several weeks later, the U.S. Army expelled the war veterans back to home, out of the national capital.

The only deaths that did occur were two veterans shot by the police before the army intervened. An infant, Bernard Myers, later died in the hospital after the incident but reports indicated the death was not caused by the evacuation of the BEF.


A movie Gabriel Over the White House, was released by MGM in March 1933 that depicted the Bonus March but with a more positive outcome. Produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Pictures it concerned the actions of "President Hammond" who ends the depression and solves the marchers problems through authoritarian means which results in a stable economy, elimination of crime, and creation of world peace.

Following his election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want to pay the bonus early either, but handled the veterans with more skill. In March 1933 Roosevelt issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the Civilian Conservation Corps for work in forests. When they marched on Washington again in May 1933, he sent his wife Eleanor to chat with the vets and pour coffee with them, and she persuaded many of them to sign up for jobs making a roadway to the Florida Keys, which was to become the Overseas Highway, the southernmost portion of U.S. 1. On September 2, the disastrous Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 killed 258 veterans working on the Highway. After seeing more newsreels of veterans giving their lives for a government that had taken them for granted, public sentiment built up so much that Congress could no longer afford to ignore it in an election year (1936). Roosevelt's veto was overridden, making the bonus a reality.

Perhaps the Bonus Army's greatest accomplishment was the piece of legislation known as the G. I. Bill of Rights. Passed in July, 1944, it immensely helped veterans from the Second World War to secure needed assistance from the federal government to help them fit back into civilian life, something the World War I veterans of the Bonus Army had not received. The Bonus Army's activities can also be seen as a template for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and popular political demonstrations and activism that took place in the U.S. later in the 20th century.

See also


  • Archer, Jules (1963). Front-Line General: Douglas MacArthur. Julian Messner, Inc.. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 63-16791.
  • Archer, Jules (1973). The Plot to Seize the White House. Hawthorn Books, Inc.. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 76-39261.
  • Burner, David (1979). Herbert Hoover: A Public Life. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-46134-7.
  • James, D. Clayton (1970). The Years of MacArthur, Volume I, 1880-1941. Houghton Mifflin Company. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 76-108685.
  • Ross, John (1996). Unintended Consequences. Accurate Press. ISBN 1-888118-04-0.
  • Smith, Richard Norton (1984). An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-46034-X.

Further reading

  • Collins, Dennis (2006). Nora's Army, Washington Writers' Publishing House. ISBN 0-931846-83-8.
  • Dickson, Paul and Thomas B. Allen (2004). The Bonus Army: An American Epic, Walker and Company. ISBN 0-8027-1440-4.
  • Dickson, Paul and Thomas B. Allen. "Marching On History". Smithsonian, February 2003.

External links

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