World War I Veterans Bonus Day
June 15, 1936
The Saga of the Veteran's Bonus Army
and their War Bonus Bonds
Monday, June 15, 1936, was a highly
anticipated day among veteran's of the Great War. It was the day that they were
to receive their World War I Bonus Bonds. The long road from Armistice Day in
November 1918 until Bonus Day in 1936 for many of these deserving veterans was
full of political intrigue, economic hardships, bitter bloodshed and plenty
One of the most controversial events that
happened in the United States after the end of World War I was the saga of the
Bonus Army. It was a protest march on Washington D.C. by 17,000 World War veterans,
their families and affliated groups in June of 1932. The purpose of the gathering
was to pressure Congress into legislating early redemption of their service
certificates (bonds) in order to deal with the effects of the Great
Veterans from all corners of the country set
out for Washington D.C. in June 1936 to demand early bonus payment.
War Bonus Marchers on their way to Washington
D.C. (left); Veterans and their
families gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building on June 15, 1936.
Many of the war veterans had been out of
work since the beginning of the Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act
of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem
until 1945. Each certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face
value equal to the soldier's promised payment compound interest.
Each veteran was to receive a dollar for
each day of domestic service, up to a maximum of $500, and $1.25 for each day of
overseas service, up to a maximum of $625. Amounts of $50 or less were immediately
paid. All other amounts were issued as Certificates of Service maturing in twenty
There were 3,662,374 Adjusted Service
Certificates issued, with a combined face value of $3.64 billion. Congress
established a trust fund to receive twenty annual payments of $112 million that,
with interest, would finance the 1945 disbursement of the $3.638 billion for the
Due to the state of the economy and the
hardships faced by many of the unemployed veterans, and their families, opinions
around the nation were overwhelmingly in favor of an early settlement on the
issue of the War Bonuses. The average veteran would receive approximately $550,
a sizeable sum at the time, equal to over $10,000 in 2018.
The government refused the request, and in
June the veterans marched on the Capital. Led by Walter Waters of Oregon, the
so-called Bonus Army set out for the nation's capital from all parts of the
country. Hitching rides, hopping trains, and hiking brought the Bonus Army to
the nation's capital. Although President Hoover refused to address them, the
veterans did find an audience with a congressional delegation. Soon a debate began
in the Congress over whether to meet the demonstrator's demands.
Most of the Bonus Army, also refered to as
the Bonus Expeditionary Force and soon numbering in the thousands, camped in vacant
federal buildings and in an improvised "Hooverville" on the Anacostia Flats, a
swampy, muddy area across the Anacostia River from the federal core of Washington,
just south of the 11th Street Bridges.
The Hooverville camp of the Bonus Marchers
on the outskirts of Washington D.C.
The camp along the Anacostia Flats grew in
size each day as more marchers arrived.
The veterans, women and children lived in
the shelters that they built from materials dragged out of a junk pile nearby, which
included old lumber, packing boxes, and scrap tin covered with roofs of thatched
straw. The camps were tightly controlled by the veterans, who laid out streets,
built sanitation facilities, and held daily parades. To live in the camps, veterans
were required to register and to prove they had been honorably
In the House of Representatives debate on
the bill was marked by high drama. Representative Edward Eslick of Tennessee died of
a heart attack on the House Floor while delivering an impassioned speech on behalf
of the bill. A day later, on June 15, the House of Representatives passed the Wright
Patman Bonus Bill to move forward the date for World War I veterans to receive their
Bonus Marchers parade in uniform through the
streets of Washington D.C. and past the U.S. Capitol Building.
Daily parades through the city kept the veterans
in the minds of the lawmakers debating the Bonus Bill.
When the measure passed, hundreds of veterans
celebrated in the House Gallery. The Bonus Army then massed at the Capitol on June 17
as the Senate voted on the Bonus Bill. To the dismay of the ex-soldiers, the bill was
overwhelmingly defeated by a vote of 62–18. This prompted more veterans to join the
protest. By July the Bonus Army had swelled in numbers to 43,000 and they were camping
out right in front of the Capitol Building.
Something had to be done. On several occasions,
the veterans were urged to leave peaceably. At one point, they were even offered cash,
and instructions to leave town on the first available train. Very few took up the offer.
It was rumored that those who did, did so only in order to recruit more
Veterans camping in front of the U.S.
On July 28, President Hoover ordered the
Secretary of War to disperse the protesters. Police Chief Pelham Glassford, who
had served as a brigadier general in World War I and had donated food and lumber
to the Bonus Army, ordered the area around Pennsylvania Avenue evacuated. The
vacant buildings were to be demolished and wrecking cranes stood nearby. Police
roped off the area.
The evicted veterans began leaving quietly,
then an angry group burst through the ropes, hurling rocks and bricks. One hit
the police chief in the chest. Upon hearing of the incident, truckloads of veterans
began streaming across the 11th Street Bridge from the encampment. Five hundred
police officers were mobilized to counter the threat.
World War I veteran's scuffle with Washington
D.C. police on July 28, 1936.
In the melee that followed, one veteran
grabbed a policeman's nightstick. The officer, George A. Shinault, drew his gun
and fatally shot two veterans, William Hushka and Eric Carlson. As ambulances
carried away the fatally wounded men, General Douglas MacArthur was massing Army
troops on the Ellipse.
Troops from Fort Myer and Fort Washington,
along with a contingent of cavalrymen and tanks, positioned themselves to quell
the disturbance. At 4pm, more than 200 soldiers on horseback, sabers drawn,
descended on Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th Street and headed toward the
The infantry with fixed bayonets followed,
donning gas masks and lobbing tear gas. The tanks rolled along behind the cavalry.
With brutal efficiency, they cleared Pennsylvania Avenue. Tanks rolled over the
shacks while the occupants set fires, then ran with their
General Douglas MacArthur directs the attack
on the veterans, as tanks and cavalry move down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Troops with fixed bayonets use tear gas to
forcefully disperse the veterans.
At 9pm, General MacArthur ordered his men
to march on the main encampment at Anacostia. Ignoring direct orders from the
president to stand down, the general sent his tanks to block the bridge and
troops to raise the drawbridge, cutting off the veterans.
A National Guard unit turned a searchlight
on the pitch-dark camp. As people panicked, infantrymen entered and lobbed tear
gas. Moving down the rows of huts, the soldiers lit folded newspapers and
systematically torched the camp.
With the camp destroyed and the veterans
dispersed, the troops stood down and the incident came to an end. Casualties
amounted to over one hundred, including the two dead veterans. In a news conference
later that evening, MacArthur defended his actions on the grounds that the Bonus
Army was guilty of subversion, and that they were a threat to "take over the
government in an arbitrary way or by indirect means."
The encampment at Anacostia burns
with the Capitol Dome and Washington Monumnent towering above in the
In addition to General MacArthur, other
notable U.S. Army personnel involved in the intervention was the general's junior
aide, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower and tank commander Major George S. Patton. In a
story full of bitter ironies, these officers had undoubtedly attacked veterans who
had served honorably with them during the war.
With the rout of their main camp, the Bonus
March had come to an end. Their shantytown burnt to the ground, the veterans left
the Capital City and went back to their homes, without their war bonuses. Despite
the overwhelmingly negative public response to the actions of the Army, the officers
involved were not reprimanded.
The ruins of the veteran's encampment on
August 8, 1936.
President Hoover, however, did not escape
judgement. His handling of the marchers was a political disaster, and was a
contributing factor in his crushing election loss in November 1932, despite
Franklin D. Roosevelt's opposition to granting the War Bonuses.
A second Bonus March was organized in May 1933.
This time the protestors were treated respectfully, provided with a campsite and three
meals a day. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the site daily. Despite the good will,
the president continued to oppose granting the bonuses. Instead, he offered 25,000
veterans jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Congressman Edwin A. Halsey signs the Adjusted
Compensation Act of 1936.
Finally, in 1936, Congress passed the Adjusted
Compensation Payment Act, authorizing the immediate payment of the $2 billion in World
War I bonuses, payable in interest bearing government bonds, then overrode a presidential
veto of the measure. Ironically, President Calvin Coolidge also vetoed the original World
War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924, only to be overridden by the
Bonus time had come, and veteran's around the
country eagerly awaited its arrival via U.S. Mail.
BONUS DAY HERE IN PITTSBURGH
The Pittsburgh Press on Tuesday, June 16, 1936,
reported that veteran's were jamming official pay stations for their bonuses. The
former soldiers swarmed into the district centers, twenty-three of which were set up
throughout the city. Postal workers, who were in charge of the distribution process,
worked into the late hours to handle the volume of requests.
The postal service reported that 95% of the
War Bonus bonds, varying in amount based on the individual serviceman, were delivered
the previous day.
Fifteen month old Carroll Ann Letzkus holds the
envelope that holds several hundred dollars
of bonds for her daddy, John Letzkus,
of 1119 Chelton Avenue, Brookline.
Fearing a rush on cash reserves, authorities
advised the veterans not to cash the bonds right away unless necessary. These cautionary
warnings did nothing to stop a large number of the vets from demanding payment in full
on the spot. False propaganda fueled the rush by claiming that the service certificates
awarded were non-transferable, even in case of death.
Other leaflets warned bonuse recipients to be
wise and cautious with their windfall. "A whole horde of financial sharpers is loose,
anxious to induce veterans to 'invest' their bonus money in all sorts of
The Gold Rush of 1936 began on June 16. This photo
shows a group of veterans and postal workers at the certification
station in the old Post Office Building in Pittsburgh. These ex-servicemen
were surrendering their bonds for a check.
To receive the money, the veteran had to present
himself and his bonds, be identified by his postal commander or someone known to the
certifying officer, obtain a receipt and await a treasury check that would be mailed to
his place of residence.
As easy as it sounded, the certifying process
was cumbersome. Each bond presented, and that could be up to thirty per person, had
to be signed by the veteran, the identifying witness and the certifying official, with
the receipt signed by the official. As the day went on, the lines of anxious vets grew
longer. Despite the heavy volume of bond redemption, well into the thousands at centers
across the city, the anticipated cash drain did not materialize.
Mailman Howard J. Hardt knows how Amico
Iannacchione feels when he receives his bonus bonds. Mr. Hardt,
shown with Amico, his wife and three children, was also a serviceman and
a bonus recipient.
BONUS DAY HERE IN BROOKLINE
In the same June 16, 1936 edition of the
Pittsburgh Press, correspondents around the South Hills reported on the enthusiasm
shown by veteran's and their families upon receipt of their bonds. "Here Comes
Bonus Man' - And There Goes Gloom!" was the headline as millions of dollars poured
into the laps of city veterans to be used to pay debts, buy clothes, finance homes
and other needs or desires.
Postmen made special rounds with their sacks
stuffed with square brown envelopes containing adjusted compensation certificates
(bonds). In neighborhoods like Mount Lebanon, Dormont and Brookline,
men and their families sat on front porches awaiting the arrival of the postal
worker. With most veterans expecting more than $500, it was well worth the wait.
Many took the afternoon off work so that they would be there when the package
The whole Hoelle family, of 1509 Creedmoor
Avenue, turned out yesterday to greet the mailman, John W. Slayton,
as he delivered bonus bonds to John H. Hoelle. Mrs. Hoelle and her six
children were delighted.
Nearly 100,000 packages were delivered, and
the delivery men, although working overtime, found it a joyous affair all around.
Many said they got as much pleasure from the experience as they would playing Santa
Claus to the families on their routes.
Here in Brookline, Postman John W. Slayton,
had approximately $35,000 worth of bonuses in his pack. Slayton knew most of his
customers and spent a few moments with many of them, listening to their families
talking about how they were going to spend their money. The phrase he
heard most was "Don't think I can't use this. Things have been pretty
Mailman John W. Slayton stops at the
Creedmoor Avenue home of Fred E. Backer (left), whose wife and daughter
were also on hand to greet the "Bonus Man." Slayton later met with Charles
Haas, of 1127 Creedmoor Avenue.
A group of small boys accosted Postman
Slayton, as he made his rounds through the streets of Brookline, asking for their
"You'll have to join the Veterans of Future
Wars," advised the carrier. With a touch of bitter irony, some of these boys may well
have gone on to serve in the next World War, or in Korea.
CLOSER TO HOME
My great-grandfather, father of my mother's
mother, Jayson Patrick Ferns, was a Corporal in Company A 11th Regiment of the
United States Marine Corps who served in France during the Great War. An electrician
by trade, he returned home and worked as a Electrical Inspector for the City of
Pittsburgh. Known by his middle name, Patrick suffered from the debilitating effects
of an enemy gas attack in October 1918.
Only a few months before the Bonuses arrived,
In March 1936, Inspector Ferns was one of those men in the boats that moved through
the streets of Pittsburgh during the Great St. Patrick's Day Flood of 1936. He was
taken around town checking the flooded building's electrical systems.
Grandpa Ferns was not part of the Bonus Army,
but he did receive over $500 worth of bonds on June 15, 1936. He promptly cashed
in his bonds and purchased, among other things, an ornate dining room set, including
a sleeved extendable table with six chairs, china closet and buffet table. He passed
away on October 1, 1955. My great-grandmother brought it with her when she moved
in with my grandmother.
This beautiful set has been in the family now
for over eighty years and currently resides in my dining room. Along with his
veteran's gravesite marker, the dining room set is a constant reminder of the
sacrifice made by my great-grandfather and all of the other veterans who went "Over
There" to help free the oppressed and restore liberty.
* Most information and photos
from the Pittsburgh Press - June 16, 1936; Updated - November 24, 2018 *
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