The Bonus Army and the Great Depression

In 1932, the United States was deep in the grips of the depression with bread riots happening throughout the country and shanty towns or Hoovervilles in many cities. “After victory in World War I, the US government promised in 1924 that servicemen would receive a bonus for their service.”[1] The 1924 act that guaranteed that bonus stated that the bonus would not be paid out to the veterans until 1945. Because of the depression, most of these men had lost their jobs, homes, and any savings that they may have acquired.

On May 17th, 1932, 400 veterans gathered in Portland, Oregon, led by fellow veteran Walter Waters. “They began a long trek to Washington aboard a freight train, loaned to them for free by the rail authorities. After exiting the train in Iowa on May 18 they hitched rides and walked the rest of the way to Washington. Smaller splinter groups reached the capital on their own. By June 1, some 1,500 men, some with their families, were in Washington.”[2] These veterans began to gather in shantytowns, as more and more veterans began to descend on Washington eventually reaching numbers as high as 20,000. By June 1932, the crowd had reached 45,000 and, on that day, they marched to the U.S. Capitol Building to demand their bonus.

One of the biggest fears among the U.S. Government was that the color-line had basically vanished in the camps.[3] This gave many in the government fear of a revolution. Members of Congress and the military had a great fear that with all of these veterans working together and organized, that they may attempt to overthrow the government. Once the Congress had ended its session, Hoover ordered the military and police to remove the veterans. Police initially moved in to remove the veterans and their families, but after several acts of violence, the military took over the operation. Using tear gas and with bayonets fixed, U.S. Army troops moved on the camps forcing the veterans to leave. Following the cavalry and infantry push, there were tanks and armored vehicles.[4]

Hoover would later say that there were very few veterans among those gathered in the group in Washington and that the group gathered were Communists and Communist sympathizers. The fact that U.S. troops were used against U.S. veterans is deeply sad. The fact that the bonus bill was vetoed by Roosevelt later is even more saddening. But Roosevelt saw the error of his ways and pushed and passed the G.I. Bill.


[1] “The 1932 Bonus Army (U.S. National Park Service).” 2019. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. September 3. https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-1932-bonus-army.htm.

[2] “The 1932 Bonus Army (U.S. National Park Service).” 2019. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. September 3. https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-1932-bonus-army.htm.

[3] “The March of the Bonus Army.” 2021. Rapidtext YouTube Video Captioning. PBD. Accessed June 11. https://textcast.peoplesupport.com/WebCaptioning/webcap.php?video=mSC1lbfXfRQ.

[4] “The March of the Bonus Army.” 2021. Rapidtext YouTube Video Captioning. PBD. Accessed June 11. https://textcast.peoplesupport.com/WebCaptioning/webcap.php?video=mSC1lbfXfRQ.

Author:

Greetings! I am Shawn MacIntyre, and I grew up with a love of history. When most kids were watching cartoons I was watching documentaries. After a long career in public safety, I chose to return to college to seek a new career path bringing history to the public. In April 2019. I graduated from Point Park University with a Bachelor's Degree in History, Magna Cum Laude. My new path is to make learning history fun, exciting and accessible to everyone. I invite you to join me on my journeys to historic destinations, learn interesting facts about the past, and spark a love for history!

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