If you have ever wondered if the US Army would follow a Presidential directive to fire on American women, children and hungry veterans, read this sad chapter in our history and think again about that…

The ‘Bonus Army’ War in Washington

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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Walter Waters helped lead the Bonus Army as its members expanded from camps in a row of condemned buildings in downtown Washington into a well-organized, well-run shantytown (top) just across the Anacostia River from Capitol Hill. They used the camps as a base for a series of peaceful, patriotic demonstrations below demanding their promised payments. (National Archives)

Army Chief of Staff and Major General Douglas MacArthur watched a brigade of steel-helmeted soldiers precisely align themselves in a straight four-column phalanx, bayonets affixed to rifles. He nodded his head in satisfaction. Discipline was wonderful. Up ahead, Major George Patton kicked his heels against his mount, and the big horse reared forward to signal a line of cavalry. The riders drew their sabers, and the animals stepped out in unison, hoofs smacking loudly on the street. Five Renault tanks lurched behind. Seven-ton relics from World War I and presumably just for show, the old machines nonetheless left little doubt as to the seriousness of the moment. On cue, at about 4:30 p.m. on July 28, 1932, the infantry began a slow, steady march forward. Completing the surreal atmosphere, a machine gun unit unlimbered, and its crew busily set up.

This was no parade, although hundreds of curious office workers had interrupted their daily routines to crowd the sidewalk or hang out of windows along Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol to see what would happen. Up ahead, a group of weary civilians, many dressed in rags and ill-fitting, faded uniforms, waited in anticipation amid their sorry camp of tents and structures made from clapboard and sheets of tin covered in tar paper. Some loitered in the street. They had heard something was afoot — expected it after what happened earlier. Now, a murmur rose from the camp crowd. Upon seeing the Army’s menacing approach, they were momentarily stunned, disbelieving.

Recovering their senses, a few of the men cursed and sent bottles and bricks flying toward the troops — ineffective weapons against so formidable a force. The missiles shattered on impact on the hard pavement or bounced off the flanks of horses and soldiers. Undaunted, the roughly 600 troops maintained their discipline with tight-lipped determination. The extra training MacArthur had recently ordered was paying off.

Some of the camp inhabitants had already begun running from the oncoming soldiery, but angry packs held their ground, defiantly wielding clubs and iron bars, yelling profanities. An officer signaled, and the infantry halted to don masks and toss gas grenades. Forming into two assault waves, they continued their push. Clouds of stinging, gray fumes wafted through the air, forcing most of the remaining unarmed veterans to flee in panic. One particularly pesky truckload continued to throw debris, prompting a quick response from Patton: ‘Two of us charged at a gallop and [striking with the flat of our swords] had some nice work at close range with the occupants of the truck, most of whom could not sit down for some days.’

As cavalry dispersed a group of outnumbered veterans waving a U.S. flag, a shocked bystander, his face streaked with tears from the gas, accosted MacArthur as he rode along in a staff car. ‘The American flag means nothing to me after this,’ the man yelled. The general quieted him with a stern rebuke, ‘Put that man under arrest if he opens his mouth again.’ The energetic officer was in his element. One reporter observed, ‘General MacArthur, his chest glittering with medals, strode up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, flipping a riding crop against his neatly pressed breeches.’

Following what the D.C. police commissioners had labeled a’serious riot’ by the Bonus Army, a beribboned Maj. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was charged with using U.S. troops, aided by machine gun–laden trucks, to clear the demonstrators from the center of the city. (National Archives)

MacArthur could not help being euphoric. If the tactics were not textbook, the results were everything he hoped for — a complete rout. The troops had exercised perfect restraint in completely clearing the downtown area without firing a shot. Within hours it was all over. Troopers set the abandoned camp ablaze as the former inhabitants retreated, demoralized and beaten, across the Third Street bridge. MacArthur called a halt to allow his troops to rest and eat while he considered his next move.

As many as 20,000 former soldiers and their families had converged on Washington in the summer of 1932, the height of the Great Depression, to support Texas Congressman Wright Patman’s bill to advance the bonus payment promised to World War I veterans. Congress had authorized the plan in 1924, intending to compensate the veterans for wages lost while serving in the military during the war. But payment was to be deferred until 1945. Just one year earlier, in 1931, Congress overrode a presidential veto on a bill to provide, as loans, half the amount due to the men. When the nation’s economy worsened, the half-bonus loans were not enough, and the unemployed veterans now sought the balance in cash. Known as Bonus Marchers, they came in desperation from all across the nation, hopping freight trains, driving dilapidated jalopies or hitchhiking, intent on pressuring Congress to pass the legislation. The administration vehemently opposed the measure, believing it inflationary and impractical given the $2 billion annual budget deficit.

At first the march was a trickle, led by Walter Waters, a 34-year-old former sergeant from Portland, Ore. It soon became a tidal wave, drawing national press attention. The first contingent reached the nation’s capital in May 1932. They occupied parks and a row of condemned buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and the Capitol. When new arrivals overflowed that site, they erected a shantytown on the flood plain of the Anacostia River, southeast of Capitol Hill. Theirs was a miserable lot, alleviated somewhat by the beneficence of the city’s superintendent of police, Pelham Glassford, himself a war veteran.

Glassford pitied the beleaguered itinerants and solicited private aid to secure medical assistance, clothing, food and supplies. During a May 26 veterans meeting, Glassford suggested they officially call themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force. Adopting the name — which was commonly shortened to Bonus Army — they asked him, and he agreed, to serve as secretary-treasurer of the group. Working together, Waters and Glassford managed to maintain enough discipline and order in the ranks to ward off eviction. Glassford likely hoped that the horde would eventually lose interest and return home, but Waters had other ideas. ‘We’ll stay here until the bonus bill is passed,’ Waters told anyone who would listen, ’till 1945, if necessary.’ He staged daily demonstrations before the Capitol and led peaceful marches past the White House. President Herbert Hoover refused to give him an audience.

In June the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Patman bill, but the Senate defeated the measure with a lopsided vote of 62 to 18. Congress was scheduled to adjourn in mid-July, and about one-quarter of the veterans accepted the government’s offer of free transportation home. Hoover had apparently won. Perhaps now he could concentrate on an economic recovery plan and the upcoming reelection campaign. But many of the marchers felt betrayed and disillusioned. With nowhere else to go, they decided to stay. Ominously, their disappointment festered in Washington’s muggy summer heat. To complicate matters, at this point the American Communist Party saw an opportunity to cause trouble, and sent forth John Pace as the catalyst with instructions to incite riot. The degree of his success is uncertain and will be forever a matter of debate, but his presence alarmed the Washington power structure.

The almost constant tension between the marchers and Washington police, coupled with the stifling summer heat, fueled frustrations on both sides, leading to confrontations that caused the police to ask for federal assistance. (National Archives)

Historian Kenneth S. Davis theorizes that Pace may have had a hand in escalating the tensions, goading the angry veterans to become more aggressive. A more plausible explanation for rising tension may simply be that frustrations finally reached a boiling point. In any case, Secretary of War Patrick Hurley had had enough. On July 28 he ordered Glassford to immediately evacuate the occupied buildings, which were scheduled for demolition to make way for new government offices. The veterans stubbornly refused to budge. For whatever reason, Glassford and his police officers became the target of bricks and stones, and one officer suffered a fractured skull. As the melee got out of hand, an angry veteran, apparently feeling that Glassford had betrayed the Bonus Marchers, tore off the chief’s gold police badge. Fearing for their safety, police opened fire, killing one veteran and mortally wounding another.

The officers retreated while Glassford sought the advice of his Board of Commissioners. Quick to pass on the responsibility, and perhaps overreacting, the commissioners called the president to deploy the Army from nearby Fort Myer to restore order. Describing the attack on police as a’serious riot,’ the commissioners asserted, ‘It will be impossible for the Police Department to maintain law and order except by the free use of firearms.’ They went on to argue that only the presence of federal troops could resolve the crisis.

Hoover, upset by the continued presence of the Bonus Marchers, now had the excuse he was looking for to expel them from the capital. He directed Secretary Hurley to unleash MacArthur, who received the following instruction: ‘You will have United States troops proceed immediately to the scene of the disorder. Surround the affected area and clear it without delay. Any women and children should be accorded every consideration and kindness. Use all humanity consistent with the execution of this order.’

Not surprisingly, MacArthur now executed his orders in a manner seemingly designed to maximize media attention. In a highly unusual but characteristic decision — one purportedly against the advice of his aide, 42-year-old Major Dwight Eisenhower — he chose to oversee the operations in the field with the troops. Military protocol called for a commanding officer to remain at headquarters. This was especially true for MacArthur, whose post was administrative rather than operational. So while he charged General Perry Miles with carrying out the eviction, MacArthur assumed the real responsibility. Although no other situation offers an exact comparison, MacArthur’s action was as if General Maxwell Taylor, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1963, had led National Guard troops to the University of Alabama to confront Alabama Governor George Wallace.

Having driven the veterans from the downtown area, MacArthur had fulfilled his mission. But whether his blood was up, or he merely sensed a need to inflict a coup de grâce against the purported Communist element — an enemy he considered more insidious than disgruntled veterans — MacArthur did not rest on his laurels. He ordered his troops to advance upon the 11th Street bridge leading to Anacostia Flats. Someone, waving a white shirt as a flag of truce, came racing across to plea for time to evacuate the women and children. MacArthur granted an hour’s reprieve.

Though accounts differ, the president now seemed suddenly to exhibit an untimely case of nerves. Fearing repercussions, he twice sent word that the Army was not to cross the bridge. MacArthur refused to listen, saying he hadn’t time to be bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders. He sent the troops across against explicit instructions. Using more gas, the soldiers moved into Bonus City. Its occupants fled in terror, refugees rousted from their pitiful camp.

‘One of the soldiers threw a bomb,’ said one woman hiding in a nearby house with her family. ‘…[W]e all began to cry. We got wet towels and put them over the faces of the children. About half an hour later my baby began to vomit. I took her outside in the air and she vomited again. Next day she began to turn black and blue and we took her to the hospital.’ Either veterans or soldiers torched the entire area — no one knows for sure. In the confusion, one baby was left behind, dead from gas inhalation.

Endeavoring to eliminate any doubt as to his motives, MacArthur next conducted an impromptu press conference — a job more appropriately left to civilian authorities. The conference allowed the general to expound on the claim that Reds had concocted the riot, the president’s safety was at stake, and the government was threatened with insurrection. Describing the mob, MacArthur said: ‘It was animated by the essence of revolution. They had come to the conclusion, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were about to take over in some arbitrary way either the direct control of the government or else to control it by indirect methods. It is my opinion that had the president let it go on another week the institutions of our government would have been very severely threatened.’ It was a masterful performance. In praising the president and war secretary, MacArthur nearly absolved himself of responsibility — perhaps a calculated move.

Hoover watched the red glow of the bonfire at Anacostia Flats from a White House window. If he had second thoughts, he didn’t include them in his record of the event; and in any case, it was too late. MacArthur’s boldness had boxed him into a corner. The president’s best option now was to vigorously support the general.

‘A challenge to the authority of the United States Government has been met, swiftly and firmly,’ Hoover said in a statement the next morning. ‘The Department of Justice is pressing its investigation into the violence which forced the call of army detachments, and it is my sincere hope that those agitators may be brought speedily to trial in the civil courts.’

Hysteria colored much of Washington’s official view of the Bonus Army. In defense of both men, MacArthur and Hoover seem to have genuinely believed that Communists controlled the organization, with Walter Waters merely serving as the Bonus Army’s titular head. Hoover believed that veterans made up no more than 50 percent of Bonus Army members, while MacArthur set an even lower number — 10 percent. Waters said that was a ‘damned lie.’ While Communist operatives certainly tried to infiltrate the ranks of the Bonus Army and instigate trouble, evidence indicates they had little real influence. The president and Army chief of staff’s estimates were badly overstated. A postevent study conducted by the Veterans Administration revealed that 94 percent of the marchers had Army or Navy service records. Nevertheless, the Communist Party was happy to take credit for what was billed as an uprising.

After forcing the veterans out of Washington, MacArthur’s troops crossed the 11th Street bridge and, using gas grenades and wielding bayonets, drove the marchers from their Anacostia camp. (National Archives)

Events elsewhere help explain Hoover and MacArthur’s state of mind. Students loudly interrupted the general’s commencement address at the University of Pittsburgh that summer as he spoke against demonstrators protesting the government. More alarming, a union-inspired hunger march at a Detroit auto plant that spring had turned ugly. Police killed four civilians while trying to maintain control, injuring 60 others. Communist Party leaders retaliated, organizing a 6,000-man funeral procession, waving red banners and marching in cadence to the party’s anthem, the ‘Internationale.’ Fearing a similar or worse result in Washington, Hoover and MacArthur acted with dispatch when confronted by a large group of disgruntled citizens. Throughout their lives, both officials clung stubbornly to the claim that subversive elements bent on destroying capitalism were behind the veterans. Neither man ever accepted the Bonus Army as primarily a group of destitute, desperate, hungry men trying to support their families.

The day’s toll was three dead, 54 injured and 135 arrests. In the rush to point fingers, in addition to the Communist element, Congressman Patman and colleagues received their share of the blame. The Chicago Tribune editorialized that responsibility for the incident ‘lies chiefly at the door of men in public life who have encouraged the making of unreasonable demands by ex-service men and inflamed their mistaken sense of judgment.’ But Alabama Senator and future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black directed his venom at a different target.

The U.S. Army torched the camp to ensure that the marchers would not return. What had once been an orderly if ramshackle camp was left a devastated smoldering ruin. (National Archives)

Arguing that Hoover had overreacted to the situation, Black said, ‘As one citizen, I want to make my public protest against this militaristic way of handling a condition which has been brought about by wide-spread unemployment and hunger.’ The New York Times hinted that other senators felt the same. Indeed, it was a common charge hurled by the opposition party during that fall’s presidential election. Senator Hiram Johnson, speaking in Chicago a few days before the presidential vote, dubbed the incident ‘one of the blackest pages in our history.’ Hoping to evoke feelings of sympathy and patriotism, he continued, noting that the displaced veterans had been hailed as heroes and saviors only a decade earlier: ‘The president sent against these men, emaciated from hunger, scantily clad, unarmed, the troops of the United States army. Tanks, tear-bombs, all of the weapons of modern warfare were directed against those who had borne the arms of the republic.’

The public soon followed Black’s lead. Frustrated by Depression-era economics and in tune with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s comparatively more aggressive assistance programs after he assumed the presidency, the public increasingly questioned the government’s response to the plight of the Bonus Army. Many came to see it as callous and heavy-handed. Theater audiences reacted to Bonus Army newsreel footage with choruses of boos.

Ever conscious of his own place in history, MacArthur blinked. At least publicly the general would voice a more sympathetic view of the marchers he once routed. At first he had called them a ‘bad mob,’ but gradually time, or concern over public opinion, softened his expressed view. In his memoirs, MacArthur took credit for supplying the marchers with tents and rolling kitchens, and declared them a ‘vanguard of a starved band,’ remembering the whole affair as a ‘poignant episode.’

If it was a purposeful attempt to improve his image, it failed. His reputation has remained forever scarred. MacArthur biographer William Manchester called his actions that day ‘flagrantly insubordinate’ and ‘indefensible.’ Another historian, echoing Manchester’s sentiment, said the general acted ‘with overzealous determination and reckless impulsiveness.’

Likely influencing the judgment of historians was MacArthur’s demonstrated knack for upsetting his supe-riors. Twenty years after the Bonus Army incident, President Harry Truman would relieve the general of his Korean command for perceived insubordination. In the end, the general’s personality and ambition proved too great an obstacle for history to erase its view of his performance against the Bonus Army.

Along with MacArthur, two other soldiers who participated in the action would go on to write their names large in history — Eisenhower and Patton. Eisenhower would eventually undergo an even more dramatic transformation than his boss in describing the affair. Normally a frank diarist, Ike merely noted at the time that he ‘took part in Bonus Incident of July 28,’ and went on to say, ‘A lot of furor has been stirred up but mostly to make political capital.’ By the time he published At Ease 30 years later, Ike portrayed himself as a frustrated hero of sorts, claiming that he tried to dissuade MacArthur from personally leading the charge. He advised him that Communists held no sway over the marchers, and he reiterated the old claim that his boss ignored White House orders to halt operations. Interestingly, Ike waited until after MacArthur’s death in 1964 to present this version. If it distorted history, MacArthur was not around to contest it.

It was a messy affair for everyone. Patton, a man who revered duty, had mixed emotions, calling it a ‘most distasteful form of service.’ Within months he criticized the Army’s tactics, believing they violated every precept of how to handle civil unrest. Still, he commended both sides: ‘It speaks volumes for the high character of the men that not a shot was fired. In justice to the marchers, it should be pointed out that had they really wanted to start something, they had a great chance here, but refrained.’ And while Patton was disgusted that ‘Bolsheviks’ were in the mix, he considered most of the Bonus Army ‘poor, ignorant men, without hope, and without really evil intent.’ To his dismay, the routed marchers included Joseph Angelo, who 14 years earlier had saved the wounded Patton’s life by pulling him to safety from a foxhole.

The episode would dog President Hoover in his attempt to win a second term of office in the fall of 1932. Presidents had called out federal troops before to suppress civil unrest, but this was the first time they had moved against veterans. It left a bad taste in the mouths of voters. A letter to theWashington Daily News expressed the sentiments of many. ‘I voted for Herbert Hoover in 1928,’ one disgusted woman wrote. ‘God forgive me and keep me alive at least till the polls open next November!’

Hoover’s Democratic challenger in that fall’s presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt, understood the political significance of the president’s use of force. Like his opponent, the New York governor did not support payment of the bonus, but he found Hoover’s tactics appalling. ‘He should have invited a delegation into the White House for coffee and sandwiches,’ Roosevelt told one aide as he perused the morning papers. Already confident of success, Roosevelt now felt victory was certain. This was a black eye no one could overcome. Roosevelt won decisively, capturing 42 states with 472 electoral votes compared to just 59 for his Republican rival.

Hoover had no illusions, but he could not help but feel bitter. Stopping just short of calling Roosevelt a liar, the former president later wrote of the campaign: ‘This whole Democratic performance was far below the level of any previous campaign in modern times. My defeat would no doubt have taken place anyway. But it might have taken place without such defilement of American life.’ The vision of Regular Army troops marching on veterans would provide propaganda for the Left for years to come.

Long before that, the remnants of the Bonus Army drifted home, stopping for a brief period in Johnson, Pa., until that community too urged them on. The government buried the two Bonus Army veterans slain by police at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. One year later, another contingent of veterans came to Washington to press the issue of the bonus payment. The new president was no more receptive than the last, but instead of the Army he sent his wife, Eleanor, to speak with the former servicemen. More important, he created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which offered the men employment. And three years later, Congress passed legislation over FDR’s veto to complete the bonus payment, resolving one of the more disturbing issues in American politics.

This article was written by Wyatt Kingseed and originally published in June 2004 issue of American History Magazine.

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Hoover & the Depression: The Bonus Army
The Bonus Army
Draft Notice, 1918
Draft Notice, 1918
The saga of the Bonus Army was born out of the inequality of the Selective Service Act (1917), the failure of the government to provide any meaningful benefits to the veterans of the First World War, and the fear and anxiety produced by the Great Depression.  During WWI, for the first time in America’s history, a wartime army went off to fight composed of more than half draftees.  Despite the rigorous propaganda efforts of George Creel’s Committee on Public Information, only 97,000 men had volunteered for the war three weeks after America’s declaration of war against Germany.  Although 2 million men ultimately did volunteer, another 2.8 million were drafted.  Draftees were organized into 4 categories, one of which exempted draftees who worked in essential defense industries.  By the end of the war, these industrial workers had earned about ten times what the category I troops had earned. They had also avoided the physical, mental, and spiritual hardships of combat, and they were better positioned to survive in the nation’s
shrinking economy.  It didn’t take returning combat troops long to recognize the inequity of their situation.  Meanwhile, Black American troops, bared from combat duty with American units, had fought in the trenches under the French flag.  Having experienced a measure of equality and dignity from the French, they too arrived home with a heightened awareness of inequality.

Soon, American veterans began to argue that they should receive “adjusted compensation” for the wages they had lost while serving overseas, a term carefully chosen to suggest equality.  Critics, however, were successful at labeling these veterans as “bonus seekers”, suggesting some special treatment above and beyond what they deserved.  In 1924, after several years of lobbying, congress finally awarded the WWI

Sheet Music: "Give A Bonus To Our Men" (1922)
Sheet Music: “Give A Bonus To Our Men” (1922)
I've Got Those Bonus Blues
Sheet Music: “I’ve Got Those Bonus Blues” (1922)
Still image from a newsreel
Still image from a newsreel (shown in movie theaters) reporting that bonds are being printed (1924)
Adjusted Service Certificate
Adjusted Service Certificate
veterans “adjusted universal compensation”—a bonus—in the form of government bonds that would collect interest over two decades and be paid out no earlier than 1945.  The bill was passed by overriding a veto from President Calvin Coolidge, who remarked, “Patriotism which is bought and paid for is not patriotism.” Although the provision that allowed for the bonus to be paid immediately upon the veteran’s death earned it the nickname, “the tombstone bonus,” the veterans were satisfied.

But then, in 1929, the economy collapsed.  President Herbert Hoover’s reluctance to recognize the severity of the economic crisis exacerbated the problem.  Although the president ultimately did authorize some massive public works projects to put money back into the economy, it was too little, too late.  By 1932 veterans, desperate for

economic relief, wanted the bonus to be paid immediately.  Such a bill was introduced in congress by Congressman Wright Patman of Texas, himself a war veteran. This bill caught the attention of a former sergeant named Walter W. Waters, now unemployed in Portland, Oregon.  Waters grew increasingly frustrated as the bill languished, while Washington lobbyists appeared successful at procuring legislation that benefited corporate interests. On March 15, Waters met with other veterans in the Portland area, and urged them to march on Washington, D.C., to lobby for the bonus in person.  He had no takers that evening, but after the bill was shelved on May 11, the Portland veterans reconsidered. Soon, about 300 of them began “riding the rails” toward the nation’s capital.
Walter Waters
Walter Waters
Bonus Army vets heading for Washington
Bonus Army vets heading for Washington by “riding the rails”
Bonus marchers enroute from Pennsylvania
Bonus marchers en route from Pennsylvania
As they headed east, the media took an interest in the story.  Radio, newspaper, and film crews reported on the veterans favorably.  Suddenly, the Bonus Expeditionary Force (a play on the “American Expeditionary Force,” under which they had been organized in France) became a movement of hope.  Veterans across the country started jumping on freight trains, sometimes with their families, and headed for Washington.  They came on buses, old trucks, and even on jitney Fords with up to 20 veterans hanging off the sides of them.  Sympathetic railroad men, many of them veterans themselves, refused to turn in these illegal passengers.  In town after town, supporters donated food, money and moral support.
On May 21, railroad police tried to stop Waters and his men from hopping eastbound freight trains just outside of St. Louis in Illinois. In response, the veterans uncoupled cars and soaped the rails, refusing to let trains depart. Illinois governor Louis L. Emmerson called out the Illinois National Guard, and in Washington, the Army deputy chief of staff, Brig. Gen. George Van Horn Moseley, urged that U.S. Army troops be sent to stop the Bonus Marchers, on grounds that they were delaying the U.S. mail. But his boss, Army chief of staff and WWI veteran Douglas MacArthur vetoed the plan. To resolve the issue, the veterans were escorted onto trucks and transported to the Indiana state line. Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland each sent the veterans by truck on to the next state.
On May 25, 1932, the first veterans arrived.  Waters and his men arrived on the 29th. Within a few weeks another 20,000 had joined them.  They made camp wherever they could find space—in vacant lots and abandoned buildings.  One large “Hooverville” sprang up along the Anacostia River, where veterans and their families erected crude structures from materials scavenged from an old dump at one end of the camp.  The camp quickly became a local attraction.  Washingtonians brought them much needed supplies, from sleeping bags to vegetables, to cigarettes, and often tossed coins to camp musicians.  Soon the camp, named Camp Marks in honor of
Camp Marks
Camp Marks
Library at Camp Marks
Library at Camp Marks
Smedley Bulter
sound Smedley Butler
the police captain in whose precinct they were encamped, came to resemble a small city.  There were named streets, a library, a post office, and a barber shop.  Classes were set up for the children. They published their own newspaper, and staged vaudeville shows and boxing matches. Camp rules prohibited alcohol, weapons, fighting, and begging.  And since the veterans wanted their motives to be unambiguous, communists were not allowed. Dozens of American flags could be seen waving above the shacks and mud.  Marine Corps legend and retired Major General Smedley Butler turned out to praise and encourage them. It was the largest Hooverville in the nation.
Police Chief Pelham Glassford, himself a decorated WWI general, sympathized with his fellow vets.  He toured the camp almost daily, organized medical care, provided building materials, solicited local merchants for food donations, and even contributed $773 out of his own pocket for provisions.  Glassford once drove with Evalyn Walsh McLean, heiress to a Colorado mining fortune and owner of the famed Hope diamond, to an all-night diner where they ordered 1,000 sandwiches, 1,000 packs of cigarettes, and coffee. When McLean learned that the marchers needed a headquarters tent, she had one delivered along with books, radios and cots. But Chief Glassford also knew that congress was not in a mood to pay bonuses.  And Glassford also viewed the camp as symbolic of the vast army of the nation’s
D.C. Police Chief Pelham Glassford
D.C. Police Chief Pelham Glassford tours Camp Marks on a motorcycle
Evalyn Walsh McLean
Evalyn Walsh McLean
Donations for the Bonus Veterans
Donations for the Bonus Veterans
unemployed.  He was wary of events getting out of hand, of creating widespread social disorder across the nation. Despite the camp rules, a few of the veterans apparently did have some Communist sympathies, a not uncommon phenomenon in 1932, since it appeared to many that capitalism had failed. And the press did report on this small communist faction of veterans. Rumors about communist revolutionaries soon spread throughout the city, and deeply affected the highest levels of government. At the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation labored to find evidence that the Bonus Army had communist roots, evidence that never existed.  President Hoover’s press secretary, Theodore Joslin, wrote in his diary that “The marchers have rapidly turned from bonus seekers to communists or bums.” Government authorities also noted the absence of Jim Crow in this Southern event. They chose to interpret this racial camaraderie between former brothers-in-arms as symptomatic of left-wing radicalism. For several years, as the Great
Depression had settled in, the government had been fearful of the possibility of an armed insurrection against Washington.  Even before the arrival of the Bonus Army, the army had developed a plan to defend the city with tanks, machine guns, and poison gas.
Within days of his arrival, Walter Waters had a full-blown lobbying operation under way. On June 4, the B.E.F. marched in full force down the streets of Washington.  Veterans filled their representative’s waiting rooms, while others gathered outside the Capitol building. On June 14, the bonus bill, opposed by Republicans loyal to President Hoover, came to the floor. When Congressman Edward E. Eslick (D-TN) was speaking in support of the bill, he suddenly fell dead from of a heart attack. Thousands of Bonus Army veterans marched in his funeral procession, while congress adjourned out of respect. The following day, June 15, the House of Representatives passed the bonus bill by a vote of 211 to 176.

On the 17th, about 8,000 veterans gathered at the Capitol, feeling confident that the Senate would pass the bill. Another 10,000 were stranded behind the Anacostia drawbridge, which police had raised to keep them

Bonus Army march, 6/4/32
Bonus Army march, 6/4/32
Rally at the Capitol
Rally at the Capitol
Awaiting the Senate vote, 6/17/32
Awaiting the Senate vote, 6/17/32
out of the city. Debate continued into the evening. Finally, around 9:30, Senate aides summoned Waters inside. He returned moments later to break the news to the crowd: the bill had been defeated. For a moment it looked as if the veterans would attack the Capitol. Instead, at the suggestion of a reporter, Waters asked the veterans to sing “America”. When the song was over, they slowly filed back to camp.

In the days that followed, many bonus marchers went home. But Waters and 20,000 others declared their intention “to stay here until 1945 if necessary to get our bonus.” They continued to demonstrate. On July 13, 1932, Police Chief Glassford

addressed a rally on the Capitol grounds. He asked the veterans to raise their hands if they had served in France and were 100 percent American. As the weeks passed, conditions at the camp worsened.  Evalyn Walsh McLean contacted Vice President Charles Curtis, who had attended dinner parties at her mansion. “Unless something is done for these men, there is bound to be a lot of trouble,” she told him. McLean’s efforts backfired. Vice President Curtis became paranoid when he saw veterans near his Capitol Hill office on the anniversary of the day the mobs stormed France’s Bastille. President Hoover, Army Chief of Staff MacArthur, and Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, increasingly feared that the Bonus Army would turn violent and trigger uprisings in Washington and elsewhere. Hoover was especially troubled by the veterans who occupied abandoned buildings downtown.
Chief Glassford addresses rally, 7/13/30
Chief Glassford addresses rally, 7/13/30
On July 28, on President Hoover’s orders, Police Chief Glassford arrived with 100 policemen to evict them. Waters informed Glassford that the men had voted to remain. Just after noon, a small contingent of vets confronted a phalanx of policemen near the armory, resulting in a quick, but violent skirmish.  Veterans threw bricks while policemen used their nightsticks. Shortly after 1:45 p.m. another fight broke out in a building adjacent to the armory. Shots rang out. When it ended, one veteran lay dead, another mortally wounded. Three policemen were injured.
MacArthur and Eisenhower on the streets, 7/28/32
MacArthur and Eisenhower on the streets, 7/28/32
At this point, Army Chief of Staff General MacArthur had had enough.  He decided to put their practiced plan into action, and assumed personal command. For the first time in the nation’s history, tanks rolled through the streets of the capital. MacArthur ordered his men to clear the estimated 8,000 veterans from the downtown area, and spectators who had been drawn to the scene by radio reports. Fred Blacher was 16 years old and standing on a corner waiting for a trolley. “By God, all of a sudden I see these cavalrymen come up the avenue and then swinging down to The Mall. I thought it was a parade,” Blacher later said.  “I asked a gentleman standing there, I said, do you know what’s going on? What holiday is this? He says, ‘It’s no parade, bud.’ He says, ‘the Army is coming in to wipe out all these bonus people down here.'”
Nearly 200 mounted cavalry, sabers drawn and pennants flying, rode out of the Ellipse, led by Major George S. Patton. They were followed by five tanks and about 300 helmeted infantrymen, armed with loaded rifles with fixed bayonets. The cavalry drove them all off the streets–pedestrians—curious onlookers, government workers and Bonus Army vets, including their wives and children. Soldiers with gas masks released hundreds of tear gas grenades at the crowd, setting off dozens of fires among the veterans’ shelter erected near the armory.
Mounted Cavalry
Mounted Cavalry
Tanks in the streets
Tanks in the streets
U.S. troops use tear gas on the Bonus Army (3 views)
U.S. troops use tear gas on the Bonus Army (3 views)
Naaman Seigle, 7 years old that day, happened to go downtown to a hardware store with his father. As they emerged from the shop, they saw the tanks and were hit with a dose of tear gas. “I was coughing like hell. So was my father,” Seigle recalled.

16-year-old Fred Blancher later said, “These guys got in there and they start waving their sabers, chasing these veterans out, and they start shooting tear gas. There was just so much noise and confusion, hollering and there was smoke and haze. People couldn’t breathe.”

By evening, the army arrived at Camp Marks. There, General MacArthur gave them twenty minutes to evacuate the women and children. The troops then attacked the camp with tear gas and fixed bayonets.  One baby died, allegedly from tear-gas inhalation. They drove off the veterans and set fire to the camp,

which quickly burned. The sky turned red in the dusk and the fire could be seen from all over Washington. Thousands of veterans and their families began a slow walk toward the Maryland state line, four miles away, where National Guard trucks waited to drive them to the Pennsylvania border.

Eyewitnesses, including MacArthur’s aide Dwight D. Eisenhower (later Supreme Allied Commander of WWII and two-term President of the United States), insisted that Secretary of War Hurley, speaking for the president, had forbade any troops to cross the bridge into Anacostia and that at least

Camp Marks ablaze
Camp Marks ablaze
Bonus Army encampment burned
Bonus Army encampment burned
two high-ranking officers were dispatched by Hurley to convey these orders to MacArthur. Eisenhower later wrote in his book,At Ease, that MacArthur, “said he was too busy and did not want either himself or his staff bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders.” Eisenhower put it more bluntly during an interview with the late historian Stephen Ambrose. “I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch he had no business going down there,” he said.

Around 11:00 p.m., MacArthur called a press conference to justify his actions. “Had the President not acted today, had he permitted this thing to go on for twenty-four hours more, he would have been faced with a grave situation which would have caused a real battle,” MacArthur told reporters. “Had he let it go on another week, I believe the institutions of our Government would have been severely threatened.”

Over the next few days, newspapers and newsreels (shown in movie theaters) showed graphic images of violence perpetrated on once uniformed soldiers (and their families), those who had won the First World War, by uniformed servicemen.  In movie theaters across America, the Army was booed and MacArthur jeered.  The incident only further weakened President Hoover’s chances at re-election, then only three months away. Franklin, D. Roosevelt won easily.

For each of the next four years, veterans returned to Washington, D.C., to push for a bonus. Many of the men were sent to rehabilitation camps in the Florida keys. On September 2, 1935, several hundred of them were killed in a hurricane. The government attempted to suppress the news, but the writer Ernest Hemingway was aboard one of the first rescue boats, and he wrote an angry piece about it. Resistance to the bonus withered. Finally, in 1936, the veterans received their bonus

Gallery of Additional Bonus Army Imagery & Sounds
Poems, Stories & Recitations sold by the Unemployed World War Veterans
Poems, Stories & Recitations sold by the Unemployed World War Veterans (under the auspices of the National B.E.F., Washington, D.C.)
The Bonus Army at the Capitoal Building, Washington, D.C.
The Bonus Army at the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Bonus Army veterans from Brooklyn, NY
Bonus Army veterans from Brooklyn, NY
Camp Marks Postcard: Next (the barbershop)
Camp Marks Postcard: Next (the barbershop)
Camp Marks Postcard: Looking Them Over
Camp Marks Postcard: Looking Them Over
Camp Marks Postcard: A Western Leader
Camp Marks Postcard: A Western Leader
Camp Marks Postcard: From the Sidewalks of New York
Camp Marks Postcard: From the Sidewalks of New York
Camp Marks Postcard: Our Gang
Camp Marks Postcard: Our Gang
Camp Marks Postcard: No Dancing Here (Recreation Hall)
Camp Marks Postcard: No Dancing Here (Recreation Hall)
Camp Marks Postcard: 1732-1932
Camp Marks Postcard: 1732-1932
Camp Marks Postcard: Until 1945
Camp Marks Postcard: Until 1945
Notice promoting bi-racial return of the Bonus Army later that December, 1932
Notice promoting bi-racial return of the Bonus Army later that December, 1932
"That Bonus Done Gone Through" by Lil Johnson (1936)
sound “That Bonus Done Gone Through” by Lil Johnson (1936)
"When I Get My Bonus" by Peetie Wheatstraw (1936)
sound “When I Get My Bonus” by Peetie Wheatstraw (1936)
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**************ALL copy credits as annotated herein*********


November 2003 event 012
  • The rich man ought not be taxed at all~~Instead, the rich man ought be compelled to employ and train the poor man~~directly~~personally~~man to man~~
  • ~
    The principal need in America today is~~financial and industrial De-Globalization~~to facilitate the promotion of the possibility for the average man to get and keep a good job with good benefits paid by the employer~~as was done not very long ago.~~


    ~~Bene Nati, Bene Vestiti, Et Mediocriter Docti~~
    ~~La crema y nata~~ ~ ~~Artista de la conquista~
    ~~In sunshine and in shadow~~I hold tight to the Republican view of time and money~~I write night and day~~yet~~while impecunious~~I am vastly overpaid~~in that taking pay to do what I love is unfair~~to my employer~~in a fair system~~under such circumstances~~I should pay him~~not he me~~I am far, far too old a man to be sexually confused~~praise Jesus~~but I am yet young enough to be politically confused~~is anyone not~~in an absolute sense~~I am a Catholic Royalist~~in a practical sense~~I am a Classical Liberal~~a Gaullist~~a Bonapartist~~an American Nationalist  Republican~~in either sense~~my head is soon for the chopping block~~to hasten my interlude with Madame La Guillotine~~I write without fear~and without favor of~any man~~ 
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