While MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower played roles in the drama, and this contributed to the political sunset of Hoover, FDR wanted to screw the veterans. When in office, Roosevelt turned them into workhorses as part of his overall New Deal plan to put people back to work. When 258 of the veterans-turned-workers died in a September 1936 hurricane, public sentiment shifted. This eventually resulted in the GI Bill of Right by 1944 (luckily passed in time for WWII veterans who were coming home). The effective reward for service resulted in the Boomer generation. World War II veterans were given education and home loans. This caused a bulge of post-labour workers with homes and it effectively created the "middle class". The Cold War sustained the military industrial complex and made the middle class a phenomenon that lasted into the 1980s.
Every generation for the last 100 years has had a great war in the US: The Spanish-American War, World War I (sure they arrived late, but they sure took credit for it), World War II (again, late for the party), the Korean War, the Vietnam War, then the first Iraqi War and the "War on Terror." Different wars had different outcomes, but only the veterans of World War II got the full force of the veteran benefits. War is meant to be avoided because of the cost in lives and the economic impact (ask the British-- after six years of war vs. the Axis, then endured another decade of rations and austerity). This holds true for veterans too: they come home after losing years of career building and potentially being maimed. Instead, the GI Bill of Rights gave veterans of World War II a net benefit for their time of service.
Pumping money into the economy through veterans gave us a a better educated workforce and a few decades of prosperity (allbeit through the pockets of spoiled Boomers). Veterans of the other wars have been forgotten and we've paid the price economicially.
The practice of war-time military bonuses 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 (adjusted for rank) was land and money—a Continental Army private received 100 acres (40 ha) and $80.00 at war's end while a Maj. Gen. received 1,100 acres (450 ha). In 1855, Congress increased the land-grant minimum to 160 acres (65 ha), 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 did not receive a bonus. After World War I 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 in recognition of their war-time suffering. Each veteran was to 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. 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 22.5% of the certificate's face value from the fund. In 1931, because of the Great Depression, Congress increased the loan value to 50 percent of the certificate's face value; yet, by April 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 programs. Meanwhile, veterans organizations 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, a swampy, muddy area across the Anacostia River from the federal core of Washington, just south of the 11th Street Bridges (now Section C of Anacostia Park). 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.
U.S. Army intervenes
On July 28, 1932, Attorney General Mitchell ordered the police evacuation of the Bonus Army veterans. When the veterans moved back into their old camp, they rushed two policeman trapped on the second floor of a building. The cornered police drew their revolvers and shot and killed two veterans William Hushka and Eric Carlson who died later. When told of this, President Hoover ordered the army to effect the evacuation of the Bonus Army from Washington.
At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by 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 ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the civil service spectators to yell, "Shame! Shame!"
After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, 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 this exercise was a Communist attempt at overthrowing the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty five veterans were injured with 135 arrested. A veteran's wife miscarried. The infant, Bernard Myers, died in the hospital after the incident but reports indicated the death was not caused by the evacuation of the BEF.
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, Article I. Section 8. Clause 17). The exemption was created because of an earlier "Bonus March." In 1781, most of the Continental Army was demobilized without pay. Two years later hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia, surrounding the State House where 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 from the national capital.
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 result 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. 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. Route 1. The third-strongest hurricane ever measured, the September 2, 1935 Labor Day hurricane, killed 258 veterans working on the Highway. Most were killed by storm surge flooding. 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.