the day they gassed veterans

A heinous part of American History that we all should know about, many don’t, is the Bonus Army March in 1932. After WWI, those who served in the corporate military were promised a ‘bonus’. They tried to collect but, those in Washington, wouldn’t make it easy.


In 1924, Congress had passed at Act called the World War Adjusted Compensation Act to help compensate WWI Veterans for lost wages during their service. The Act took into consideration time spent in the military between April 5, 1917 and July 1, 1919. The veterans were to receive $1.00 for each day served stateside; not to exceed $500, and $1.25 for each day served abroad; not to exceed $625.

Any veteran owed $50 or less was immediately paid in cash. Those owed more, were instead issued an ‘Adjusted Service Certificate’. These certificates were considered ‘insurance policies’ for the veterans. They were distributed in 1925, and would be redeemable 20 years later, in 1945, for an average payment of about $1,000 per veteran.

Newsreel “Bonus bonds roll off press at Government printing office” (no sound)

By 1932, the countries situation had taken a turn. The Depression was in full swing and these men were desperate as a result. They needed the money they were owed. A few decided to go to Washington to to let them know. Word spread through the country and, a few, turned into tens of thousands. Veterans, some with their families, worked their way to The Capital, sometimes jumping the tops of railroad cars.


Once they reached the Capital, the veterans built make-do tent cities around Washington. The camps were orderly. The veterans were not violent. They just wanted their money.


On June 17, 10,000 men of the Bonus Army gathered on the Capital grounds to learn that the Senate had defeated the bill that would have given the vets their money immediately by a vote of 62 to 18. The vets responded with stunned silence. Many of the men left the Capital after the decision came through but, many stayed. Many had nowhere else to go.

A ‘Death March’ started in front of the Capital. The men walked, some in bare feet, silently in front of the capital to show their disappointment and to protest the Senate’s decision. This went on for an entire month, until Congress adjourned on July 17.

On July 28, the evacuation of the remaining veterans of the Bond Army from all government property was ordered by Attorney General Mitchell. The Washington police were sent in to disperse the remaining members of the Bond Army but were met with resistance. Two veterans were shot and killed as a result.

After the police failed to evict the marchers, President Hoover ordered the Army in. By 4:45 that afternoon, General Douglas MacArthur, along with his liaison to police, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, gathered Cavalry, led by Major George Patton, Infantry with fixed bayonets, and six tanks along Pennsylvania Ave. Assuming the military display was in their honor, the WWI Veterans cheered when they saw the troops lining the street. The Cavalry turned and charged, followed by Infantrymen throwing tear gas to disperse the marchers. They pushed the marchers back across the Anacostia River, into their camp where MacArthur ordered that the tent-town be burned.

July 28, Attorney General Mitchell ordered the evacuation of the veterans from all government property, Entrusted with the job, the Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two marchers killed. Learning of the shooting at lunch, President Hoover ordered the army to clear out the veterans. Infantry Troops prepare to evacuate the Bonus Army July 28, 1932 and cavalry supported by six tanks were dispatched with Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur in command. Major Dwight D. Eisenhower served as his liaison with Washington police and Major George Patton led the cavalry.  By 4:45 P.M. the troops were massed on Pennsylvania Ave. below the Capitol. Thousands of Civil Service employees spilled out of work and lined the streets to watch. The veterans, assuming the military display was in their honor, cheered. Suddenly Patton’s troopers turned and charged. “Shame, Shame” the spectators cried. Soldiers with fixed bayonets followed, hurling tear gas into the crowd.  By nightfall the BEF had retreated across the Anacostia River where Hoover ordered MacArthur to stop. Ignoring the command, the general led his infantry to the main camp. By early morning the 10,000 inhabitants were routed and the camp in flames. Two babies died and nearby hospitals overwhelmed with casualties. Eisenhower later wrote, “the whole scene was pitiful. The veterans were ragged, ill-fed, and felt themselves badly abused. To suddenly see the whole encampment going up in flames just added to the pity.”

… In July 1932, President Hoover ordered Major General Douglas MacArthur to disband the Bonus Army, who sent then Major George Patton with his cavalry and tanks to clear out the camps….

Under the then US Government President Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur directed the army; complete with infantry, cavalry, and tanks, to roll into Anacostia Flats where the veterans had been moved by the government. The active military, along with the police, followed orders and turned on the the WWI Veterans. They shot at them, gassed them, and burned their makeshift tent town to the ground. Ultimately, two were killed. All of their belongings destroyed.


Every year for the next four years, veterans marched to Washington to demand payment. Many of these men were sent to work camps in the Florida Keys. As a result, hundreds of them were killed in the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. With wind gusts up to 200 miles per hour, a storm surge of approximately 18 to 20 feet swept over the islands. Ernest Hemingway happened to be in The Keys and witnessed the devastation first hand. He wrote an article about the tragedy titled, “Who Murdered the Vets? A First-Hand Report on the Florida Hurricane”, for The New Masses magazine.

An excerpt from that story:

‘It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; They made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives. Who sent nearly a thousand war veterans, many of them husky, hard-working and simply out of luck, but many of them close to the border of pathological cases, to live in frame shacks on the Florida Keys in hurricane months’

– Earnest Hemingway, The New Masses, 1935

Read Hemingway’s entire article here.

After too much suffering, and too much loss by those who had served the corporation well, The Adjusted Compensation Payment Act was finally enacted on January 27, 1936. The Act replaced the Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 and bonds were issued by the Treasury Department in denominations of $50. The bonds paid a 3% annual interest rate for the dates from June 15, 1936, to June 15, 1945.


News of the day and more interesting stuff:

Propagandized Newsreels, like this one, were shown in movie theaters across America and were met with boos and hisses from the audience… (3:12)

Excerpts from the PBS documentary, “The Great Depression” (21:55)…

[Notes from above video:

  • the female @ 13:00; I’m not a big advocate of violence but, I’d kinda like to knock that ‘lady’ out her chair :\
  • Smedley @ 14:20; You gotta love that guy 😀
  • They blame the entire tragedy on MacArthur but, who can be sure he wasn’t ‘just following orders’. That’s how it works. Subservient people pledge allegiance to the corporation, then they’re hung to dry if necessary.]

PBS documentary, “The March of the Bonus Army” (26:53)…

[Notes from above video:

  • The need for segregation disappeared because, for a short time, the people were united against THE problem in this world. The corporation.]


The Bonus March ultimately led to the now known GI Bill. The Bill ensures that those who serve are monetarily compensated for their time.

I can’t even begin to know the betrayal these WWI Veterans had to have felt at that moment in their lives. They were put through so much. I have much respect and admiration for them all. Here’s hoping that no more will ever have to know this level of dishonor again.



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