The Kansas State Historical Society has copies of Kansas WW1 Veteran’s official military record, evidence of a person’s military career. In it includes when the veterans enlisted and when they were discharged. Most of them also have evidence of what units the veterans served during his/her enlistment.  In my day this document had a government number DD214. It is a vital piece of paper that is required for any benefit due a soldier.

I have numerous times used these documents (referred to as “Bonus records”). There are around 50 boxes, each larger than a bushel box. It is these documents that were presented to the officials to claim each veteran’s bonus. If a soldier was dead, the bonus could be claimed by his widow.

Bonuses for military pay had a long history beginning in England and carried to the United States. In 1636, The Plymouth Colony provided money to disabled people who fought the Indians. In 1776 the Continental Congress passed the first pension law providing 1/2 pay for life to those who had lost a limb or had other serious disabling disabilities.

In 1789 Congress assumed the responsibilities of paying for veteran’s benefits. This is the first time a bonus/benefit was paid by the United States.

In the 1800s to 1900s some of the veteran’s benefits were land.  Civil War Veterans could have the required years to live on land grant reduced by one year for every year they served in the Civil War.

And Coxey’s Army marched on Washington DC in 1894.  It consisted of unhappy citizens who were out of work due to the depression of 1892.  They wanted the Government to provide jobs to improve the infrastructure and thereby create jobs.

So you can see there were numerous situations which were similar to what was to happen to veterans in the period of 1932 to 1936.

In 1924 Congress passed a bonus bill (The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924) to help pay the WW1 Veteran for lost wages during WW1.  This was passed by Congress over President Coolidge’s veto.  The bonus was $1.00 per day up to $500.00 for each day served within the U. S. and $1.25 per day up to $625.00 for each day served over seas. If the amount was less than $50.00 it was immediately paid.  The interesting thing about this bill is it wasn’t payable until 1945.  If the bonus certificate was cashed in 1945, it would be work ca. $1,000.00.  During the “Roaring Twenties” this wasn’t a problem because the United States had a booming economy and everyone was happy.  Things changed in 1929 with the Depression.

There was $3.66 million dollar trust funds established for the WW1 Bonuses.   22.5% could be borrowed on the face value, but in 1931 there was congressional support to pay the bonus, but the support was not large.  Hoover and his staff and many politicians could not see paying this debt.  The fear was it would increase the difficulty of getting out of the depression. Congress in 1931 did establish that one could borrow up to 50% of the face value. But the depression got worse and the 50% borrowing was not enough.

President Hoover held to perceptions that if the bonus was paid, the recovery from the depression would be delayed.  He also thought that Communism was a big factor which would get bigger with more riots.  He thought that many Communists had infiltrated the bonus army. Fact later demonstrated that 90% of the bonus marcher were veterans.  These two thoughts seem to cloud Hoover’s vision on what to do.

May of 1932 veterans began coming to Washington to protest and lobby for passing a bill to allow payment of the bonus. Eventually 17,000 (this number varies from one source to another) veterans, many with wives and children, are in the city.

June 16, 1932 the House of Representatives passes the bonus bill, but the Senate rejects it.  Many of the veterans go home, but some of the “Hard nose veteran” hang around. Many of them had no place to go, so they stayed.  Those that stayed were still quite a large number.

By July 28, the government ordered the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF) out of the old buildings which were to be torn down and to clean up the camp sites.  The camp sites were dirty and unsanitary.  Fearing rising disorder from the veterans, Hoover orders Army Chief of Staff, General D. MacArthur to disperse the protestors.

General MacArthur, with Patton in charge of the Cavalry and Eisenhower as MacArthur’ aid, with 600 men, 6 tanks and machine guns, preceded to do the job.  At first the veterans thought that the army was supporting them, but soon as they saw gas masks, swords, and Patton beginning a charge, the veterans ran for cover.  Many of the civilians in Washington DC lined the street in observance of the action.  Many of them were shocked and surprised at what they perceived the military was about to do. One even commented to MacArthur that the flag didn’t mean much anymore. MacArthur threatened to arrest him.

Patton with the cavalry was ordered to charge. He proceeded to charge.  Joe Angelo who was a decorated soldier and the one who had saved Patton’s life in WWI could get no help from Patton.  Old favors were tossed away.

When the day was over, General MacArthur had twice disobeyed President Hoover’s orders not to cross the 11th street bridge.  MacArthur did cross the bridge, rout the veterans and burned their “shanty towns”.  When it was all over, there were 3 dead, 54 wounded and 133 arrested.   In addition President Hoover lost the election held in the fall of 1932. Many felt that Hoover’s actions that day contributed to his loss.

Eisenhower stated verbally that he tried to warn MacArthur not to go into the area across the 11th street bridge, but in his official report he endorsed MacArthur’s actions.

The Marines were located close to the action, but because they sympathized with the veterans, they were not called to be involved with the removing the veteran.

The Army intelligence reported that day the BEF intended to occupy the capital permanently, that they would incite riots and the communists played an important roll and they might take over.  Hoover believed that 50% of the rioter were communists.  MacArthur believed 10% were Communists, but as reported earlier the actual fact was 90% of the people were veterans, and 10% could be something other than a veteran.  There were some communists there.

It was a different situation after President Roosevelt was elected.  In 1933 there was another march on the Capital, but this time it was 3,000 veterans strong.  Several things were different in how the vets were managed.  He offered the veterans jobs in the CCC and he eliminated some of the requirements for the veterans.  He allowed them to be older that 25 and also they could be married.

Roosevelt sent his aid to negotiate with the veterans.  He also moved them to better quarters, and saw that they had 3 meals per day and medicine when they needed it.

He also sent his wife, Eleanor. She visited most often and listened and observed.  She reported that she was comfortable with the vets, enjoyed their music, and had great sympathy for them.  One veteran made a comment, “Hoover sent MacArthur and Roosevelt sent his wife”.

In 1936 Congress passed the bonus bill and Roosevelt vetoed it.  Congress then overrode the veto.  The bill became law and the veterans got their money.

To get the bonus the veteran had to present evidence that he was a veteran.  Today this information would be on the veteran’s discharge paper, a DD 214.  In 1919/1920 the discharge papers were significantly different than today, but the pertinent information is there.  That is it shows when one entered the service, when they were discharged and where they served.

Today for Kansas researchers these bonus papers are kept at the Kansas State Historical Society. If you didn’t attempt to get your bonus, those records would not be part of the KSHS holdings. Some veterans did not pick up their bonus money.

Perry Walters is a life long resident of the Tonganoxie, KS area. He graduated from Kansas University with a BS in Education with a minor in history and an AB in Science. He received a DDS degree from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He joined the Navy and served two years on active duty. One year was with the Fleet Marines in Okinawa. He retired from the Naval Reserves. He later received a Masters Degree in Periodontics and directed a graduate program in periodontics. Later he directed a hospital based dental clinic. After retirement he and his wife became active in the Tonganoxie Historical Society where he is the editor of their newsletter. He also films and edits movies of local people who know history.