The Bonus Army

An American Epic

by Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen

The Bonus Army

Hardcover, 370 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $27 | purchase

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Book Summary

Describes the 1932 protest by some 45,000 veterans of World War I, who arrived in Washington to lobby for the bonus promised them eight years earlier for their wartime service, examining the impact of their protest and the reactions of then president Hoover and the government on the social and political evolution of American history.

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The Bonus Army

The Bonus Army

An American Epic


Walker & Company

ISBN: 0-8027-1440-4

Contents

Prologue...........................................................11 Over There.......................................................92 The Tombstone Bonus..............................................253 A Petition in Boots..............................................394 Mobilizing a Bonus Army..........................................565 An Army of Occupation............................................816 Hooverville, D.C.................................................1057 The Death March..................................................1318 Tanks in the Streets.............................................1539 The Long Morning After...........................................18410 The Return of the Bonus Army....................................20711 Labor Day Hurricane.............................................22412 V Day for the Veterans..........................................252Epilogue: The GI Bill-Legacy of the Bonus Army.....................266Acknowledgments....................................................279Appendix A: The Long Shadow of the Bonus Army......................283Appendix B: What Became of Them....................................291Notes..............................................................301Bibliography.......................................................345Index..............................................................355

Chapter One

Over There

EX-SERVICE MEN DEMAND JOBS No one knows No one cares if I'm weary Oh how soon they forgot Ch√Ęteau-Thierry -From Newsreel XLVI, The Big Money, a volume in the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos

President Woodrow Wilson and his wife rode in an open carriage from the White House to the Capitol for his second inaugural on the morning of Monday, March 5, 1917. For the first time since the Civil War, a president was given special protection on Inauguration Day. Letters threatening the president's life had alarmed the Secret Service. Agents had inspected every building on Pennsylvania Avenue along the mile-long route. Soldiers were stationed eight feet apart on both sides of the broad avenue.

Wilson, running on the campaign slogan "He kept us out of war," had been reelected by a slim margin. Now he had to speak of the nearness of war. In the inaugural address he said, "We are provincials no longer. The tragic events of the thirty months of vital turmoil through which we have just passed have made us citizens of the world. There can be no turning back."

Those months of turmoil traced back to June 1914, when an assassin killed a man few Americans had ever heard of-Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, slain in Sarajevo, Serbia. The murder reverberated through Europe and erupted in a war whose causes bewildered Americans; in Wilson's words, the events "run deep into all the obscure soils of Europe." Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany declared war on Russia and France and invaded Belgium. Britain declared war on Germany. Bulgaria and Turkey allied with Germany. German troops advanced into France and threatened Paris. By the end of the year, both sides were fighting from trenches along the 350-mile Western Front that extended from Switzerland to the English Channel.

Wilson kept America officially neutral while U.S. factories shipped arms to Britain and France, defying German U-boats. The war seemed far away to most Americans until May 7, 1915, when a U-boat torpedoed, without warning, the British passenger liner Lusitania. Some 1,200 men, women, and children -including 128 Americans-were killed. A few days before the sinking, Americans had read about a horrible new weapon-poison gas, used by Germany for the first time on the Western Front. The sinking and the gas intensified anti-German sentiment while simultaneously producing a plea for continued neutrality from German-Americans, one of the nation's largest and oldest immigrant groups.

Between the time of the election and his inauguration in March 1917, German submarines shattered Wilson's hope of ending the war through mediation, a noble idea he called "peace without victory." No country was interested. Germany declared a U-boat blockade of Great Britain and in a note to the United States warned that any ship entering the embargo zone would be sunk without warning. Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. Then Wilson obtained from British sources a copy of a telegram sent by German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German ambassador in Mexico, instructing him to offer Mexico an alliance with Germany with the promise of "an understanding" that Mexico would reconquer and keep Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. British code breakers had decrypted the telegram. Wilson arranged for the telegram to be released on March 1 by the Associated Press. The German plan to ally with Mexico stunned and infuriated Americans.

On the evening of Monday, April 2, Wilson again traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue to address a joint session of Congress, this time in a car escorted by a squad of cavalry, sabers drawn. The cavalrymen, ceremonial troops from Fort Myer, across the Potomac, routinely rode out for funerals and occasions of state. As the car turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, the dome of the Capitol could be seen ahead, glowing, illuminated for the first time by a new system of indirect lighting.

At eight-thirty, in a light spring rain, cavalrymen eased their horses into the silent crowd on the Capitol Plaza, opening a path for Wilson's car. He got out and, alone, walked up broad stairs that had been cleared of picketing pacifists. The building and grounds were guarded by cavalry troopers, U.S. Marines, Secret Service agents, postal inspectors, and uniformed police.

Senators marched into the House carrying little American flags. The galleries were packed with people who had been issued special passes by jittery security men. Justices of the Supreme Court sat before the Speaker's platform. Foreign diplomats, in formal evening attire, sat to the side, invited to a joint session for the first time in memory.

As Wilson walked down the aisle, the justices rose and led the Senators and representatives in applause, cheering and yelling for two minutes and giving Wilson the kind of reception he had never received before. Holding the speech he had typed himself, at first not looking up, Wilson began describing Germany's "warfare against mankind." He spoke to silence until he said, "There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making; we will not choose the path of submission."

Chief Justice Edward White, who had fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, suddenly rose, dropped his hat, raised his hands above his head, and clapped them once. Then from the Congress, a reporter wrote, came "a cheer so deep and so intense and so much from the heart that it sounded like a shouted prayer." More cheers came when Wilson said, "Neutrality is no longer feasible.... The world must be made safe for democracy."

When Wilson finished his thirty-six-minute speech, he slowly walked out of the chamber to more cheers, more flag-waving. Back in the White House, he said to his secretary, "Think of what it was they were applauding. My message of today was a message of death for our young men." Then, by one account, he put his head down on a table and sobbed.

Early in the morning of April 6, following an 82 to 6 vote in the Senate, the House voted 373 to 50 to declare war. Wilson received a similarly overwhelming response in letters and telegrams, including a congratulatory message from London signed by forty-year-old Herbert C. Hoover, chairman of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium. Hoover, a millionaire mining engineer, had taken over the task of feeding the Belgians, whose food supplies had been sharply curtailed after German troops invaded the small kingdom in 1914. He directed a mammoth effort that saved Belgium from starvation. When America entered the war, Hoover returned home, and Wilson immediately made him U.S. food administrator, increasing his reputation and bringing his name into everyday use: housewives who aided the war effort by serving nonwasteful meals said they were "Hooverizing."

When a song-and-dance man named George M. Cohan read the "war declared" headlines, he was on a train heading for New York City from suburban New Rochelle-only "forty-five minutes from Broadway," according to one of his songs. He began humming a tune, and by the time his trip ended, he had written a song that would echo the cocky patriotism of the nation. That night Cohan telephoned Nora Baye, a star of vaudeville, and on May 12 she sang the song for the first time to a cheering audience. Most Americans heard it on their Victrolas or gathered around their pianos, reading the words from a song sheet with a cover by Norman Rockwell, then twenty-four years old. He would soon be in the U.S. Navy.

Over there, over there Send the word, Send the word over there That the Yanks are coming, The Yanks are coming, The drums rum-tumming Ev'rywhere....

When Congress declared war, the Regular Army had 127,588 officers and men to send into a war of attrition, where in a single month 300,000 British soldiers had been killed, wounded, or gassed.

At first, people believed that the army sent off to fight the Germans, like the army raised for the Spanish-American War, would be made up of volunteers. Teddy Roosevelt offered to lead a volunteer force, as he had done in that "splendid little war." But this war needed men by the millions, and the only way to get them was by a draft. Pacifists, radicals, and patriots found themselves on the same side in opposition to the draft. Anarchist Emma Goldman, later jailed and deported for her opposition to conscription, predicted the draft would bring civil war. Speaker of the House Champ Clark, advocate of an all-volunteer army, declared that in his state of Missouri there was "precious little difference between a conscript and a convict." Conscription was given a soothing label-Selective Service-and the act passed. President Wilson signed it on May 18, and it would be the basis for conscription in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

The act outlawed the Civil War practice of buying one's way out of the draft. During the Civil War, wealthy men could legally duck the draft for three hundred dollars-this at a time when a typical laborer was making less than five hundred dollars a year. That inequity had touched off the New York City draft riots of 1863, in which as many as two thousand may have died, and similar, less deadly riots in other cities.

More than nine million men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one registered on June 5, 1917, and placed their fate in the hands of local, governor-appointed "boards of responsible citizens." Each draft board had a set of numbers to bestow on the selectees (a term that vied with draftee). On July 20, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, himself a pacifist, was blindfolded as he stood next to a large glass bowl. He pulled from it a small piece of paper bearing the number 258. The drawing kept up throughout the day until more than 10,000 numbers had been drawn. For American young men, a life of chance had begun. "Your number came up" entered the language.

They began their military lives in hastily built training camps that sprouted in twenty-three states-white men and black men who had never been on a train before, college boys, farmers' sons, and slum dwellers. About 18 percent of them were immigrants of forty-six nationalities, many of them unable to speak English. By the beginning of October, more than 500,000 men were in the camps, which were mostly in the South. Regulations said that the men, about 70 percent of them draftees, were to be turned into soldiers in four months of seventeen-hour days. Many of the recruits had only wooden guns, and many would go to the front without ever having aimed or fired a rifle.

Most of the junior officers were either National Guardsmen or recent college graduates given a few weeks of training in officer candidate schools. The senior officers were of a different type-Regular Army officers who had learned their soldiering on the parade grounds of West Point, men who had gone to war against Spain in Cuba in 1898, or chased Pancho Villa across the Mexican border, or fought guerrillas in the Philippines.

The Regular Army had four Negro regiments, which traced their lineage to the freed slaves of the Civil War. They boasted a legacy that included the Indian-fighting "Buffalo Soldiers" of the Old West and the 10,000 black troops who fought in the Spanish-American War, some under Captain John J. Pershing, giving him his nickname Black Jack. Some African-American leaders believed that service in the Great War would do nothing to advance black civil rights. But in 1918 William E. B. DuBois, editor of the Crisis, official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote, "first your Country, then your Rights!" His belief was that loyalty and courage in wartime France would inevitably produce equal rights and opportunity in peacetime America.

Men of the American Expeditionary Force, the AEF, first reached France in May 1917, a short time after the triumphant arrival of General Pershing and his stirring salutation to France. Standing at the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War, a spokesman for Pershing exclaimed, "Lafayette, we are here!" On his staff was Captain George S. Patton Jr., whose sister Anne was secretly engaged to Pershing, a widower. Patton, bristling at the implication of favoritism, was trying to get off Pershing's staff and into action. A cavalryman with a love for horses, Patton was transferred to a new kind of cavalry unit called the tank corps.

As Americans continued to pour into France and made their way to the front, they fought alongside French forces at Belleau Wood and on the river Marne. Among them were the black American regiments not attached to U.S. forces but assigned to French divisions made up of Africans from French colonies. They wore French helmets and fired French rifles. One such unit was the 369th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, dubbed by the French the Harlem Hellfighters.

In August Pershing set up an American front along what the battle maps called the Saint-Mihiel salient, a sharp angle in the German line. The salient looked like a dagger aimed at Paris, with the town of Saint-Mihiel, on the river Meuse, as its point. General Pershing decided to hurl three hundred thousand American troops against the salient, which the Germans had controlled since the hell of trench warfare had begun in 1914. Then he would shift those troops, along with hundreds of thousands more, to the battle line known as Meuse-Argonne. There, in 1918, he would open what he hoped would be the decisive campaign of the war. As he later wrote, he had launched with practically the same army and within twenty-four days "two great attacks" on battlefields only sixty miles apart.

During this campaign, individuals who would play key roles in the events of 1932 first revealed themselves. Among the units at Saint-Mihiel was the Yankee Division, formed by National Guardsmen from all six New England states. Like other divisions, the Yankee had Regular Army officers in key commands, including Colonel Pelham D. Glassford. Because his men had no cannon of their own, they had to learn to fire French 75-millimeter guns and the heavier 155 guns. Glassford's men could not match the French on accuracy, but he could speed up the firing by teaching his Yankees the dangerous feat of loading on the recoil. They learned to fire forty shells a minute-so fast that some German officers insisted the Americans were armed with machine-gun cannons. One of Glassford's guns became famous as Betsy the Sniper, aimed by a man who had been a star pitcher for Yale. He treated the gun like a rifle, picking off targets at seven thousand yards. His men could fire and load so fast that they could have four of Betsy's shells in the air at one time.

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