In memory of the veterans who marched to DC during the Depression to claim bounty only to be forcibly evicted by active duty soldiers. BY SHANNON BOW O’BRIEN

In memory of the veterans who marched to DC during the Depression to demand bonuses only to be violently evicted by them active duty soldiers


November 20, 2022

(SitNews) – The Bonus Army March is a forgotten footnote in American history.

It involved up to 30,000 mostly unemployed veterans who gathered in Washington, DC, during the spring and summer of 1932 to demand early cash payment of a bounty they had been promised for their World War I volunteer service.

The bonus was due in 1945, but the Great Depression triggered financial panics across the country, and World War I veterans wanted their money sooner rather than later.

When the US Senate refused to pass legislation to pay the payments, many of the veterans returned home. But the vast majority stayed, setting up camps and occupying buildings near the Capitol – much to the dismay of local police, who tried to evict the protesters from their makeshift encampments.

A riot ensued, killing two protesters and injuring dozens.

At this point, on July 28, 1932, the police requested federal assistance. In a written statement, President Herbert Hoover appointed his Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, to handle the matter.

“To put an end to this rioting and resistance to civil authority,” Hoover wrote, “I have asked the Army to assist the district authorities in restoring order.”

MacArthur’s orders were to secure the buildings and contain the protesters by surrounding their campground in Anacostia Flats near the Capitol.

But as MacArthur did throughout his career—particularly in Korea, when his disobedience led to his dismissal—he went beyond his orders.

Historians have written late in the afternoon that nearly 500 mounted cavalrymen and 500 infantrymen with bayonets drawn were escorted to Anacostia Flats by six tanks and another 800 local policemen. It wasn’t long before the protesters were driven out of the city and their camps burned down.

MacArthur’s aides later said he never received orders to simply contain the bonus army.

The Bonus Army March was one of the few times in American history that the US military was used to break up a massive demonstration of peaceful protesters. The debacle also symbolized Hoover’s perceived callousness towards the unemployed during the Great Depression and led to his defeat by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election.

What the military response failed to do was long to deter the Bonus Army protesters.

The battle for bonus checks

At the end of World War I in 1918, the US government wanted to give a bonus payment to soldiers who volunteered to fight in the American Expeditionary Force.

The volunteers received certificates in 1945 promising a bonus. Under the agreement, each veteran received $1 for every day spent at home and $1.25 for every day spent abroad. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act capped at $625 plus compound interest per veteran.

Groups of men eat lunch while sitting and standing near dozens of tents.

In this May 12, 1932 photo, members of the Bonus Army are seen eating lunch next to their tents.

But in the winter of 1931, like most Americans, many veterans were in dire need of cash.

Starting out in Portland, Oregon, about 300 of them decided to travel to Washington to plead their case with the government. Her trip garnered national attention, prompting other veterans to travel to Washington as well. Over time, families joined the men.

deadlock in Congress

Bonus Army became a problem for Hoover and Congressional leaders when local authorities got fed up with an estimated 30,000 people camping on their streets and huddled in city buildings.

But with a shrinking federal budget and a precarious economy, neither Hoover nor Congress wanted to authorize further exhaustion of the treasury. Estimates put the federal government paying up to $2.3 billion for the premiums.

Bonus marchers tried to pressure congressional leaders by sending veterans into the waiting room of the offices of every member of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees the federal budget. But they lost the PR war that turned against them.

At the time, rumors spread by opponents of the protesters were circulating among congressional leaders and the military about the unsanitary conditions in the camp, as well as possible communist infiltration.

When the bill to pay the bonus was rejected in July 1932, an estimated 8,000 Bonus Army protesters were in the Capitol. With so many angry men surrounding the building, local police feared possible violence.

But instead of launching a violent attack, the protesters began chanting “My Country Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” on their way back to their camp.

use of military force

On July 28, 1932, the local and federal governments ruled that time was up for Bonus Army protesters.

At around 11 p.m., MacArthur called a press conference to justify his actions.

“If the President had not acted today, if he had allowed this to go on for 24 hours, he would have been faced with a serious situation that would have sparked a real struggle,” MacArthur told reporters. “If he had let it go on for another week, I think the institutions of our government would have been seriously threatened.”

Under MacArthur’s leadership, huts were set on fire and even the tents borrowed from the National Guard were destroyed. Tanks and soldiers blocked several bridges to prevent people from re-entering the city.

Images of children and women being displaced by tear gas and flames shocked and appalled the American public when they were published by newspapers across the country.

Despite their apparent defeat, the veterans of Bonus Army continued to push for early payments.

Four years later, in January 1936, Congress passed the long-stalled Bonus Act, which provided nearly $2 billion in payments to the mostly male volunteers during World War I.

Congress overruled Roosevelt’s veto and paid the veterans an average of $580 per man, slightly less than the $600 they would have received had they waited until 1945.

Today the Anacostia field is largely overgrown grassland and has only a very small mark to indicate the Bonus Army was ever there.The conversation

Representations of facts and opinions in posted comments are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the opinion of Sitnews.

Send a letter to [email protected]

Contact the editors

SitNews ©2022
stories in the news
Ketchikan, Alaska

Articles and photographs appearing in SitNews are considered copyrighted and may not be reprinted without written permission and payment of the necessary fees to the appropriate freelance writers and subscription services.

Email your news and photos to [email protected]

Photographers who submit photos to SitNews for publication consent to their publication and archiving. SitNews does not sell photos. All requests to purchase a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.


Categories DC