Bonus Army

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Bonus Army Conflict
Bonus Army marchers (left) confront the police.
Date July 28, 1932
Location Washington D.C., United States of America
Result Bonus Army dispersed, demands rejected
Bonus Army United States Army
Commanders and leaders
Walter W. Waters
Eddie Atwell
William Hushka
Eric Carlson
Herbert Hoover
Douglas MacArthur
Dwight D. Eisenhower
George S. Patton
17,000 veterans
26,000 others
500 infantry
500 cavalry
6 Renault FT tanks
800 police
Casualties and losses
4 dead; 1,017 injured At least 69 police injured

The Bonus Army was the popular name of an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand immediate cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Its organizers called it the Bonus Expeditionary Force to echo the name of World War I's American Expeditionary Force, while the media called it the Bonus March. It was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant.

Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great 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 service certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their certificates.

Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most popular military figures of the time, visited their camp to back the effort and encourage them.[1] On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired and two veterans were wounded and later died. Veterans were also shot dead at other locations during the demonstration. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the army to clear the veterans' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.

A second, smaller Bonus March in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt Administration was defused in May with an offer of jobs for the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort Hunt, Virginia, which most of the group accepted. Those who chose not to work for the CCC by the May 22 deadline were given transportation home.[2] In 1936, Congress overrode President Franklin D. Roosevelt's veto and paid the veterans their bonus years early.


File:Bonus army on Capitol lawn cph.3a00515.jpg
Members of the Bonus Army camped out on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building

In 1781, most of the Continental Army was demobilized without pay. Two years later, hundreds of Pennsylvania war veterans marched on Philadelphia, then the capital, surrounded the State House where the U.S. Congress was in session, and demanded their pay. Congress fled to Princeton, New Jersey, and several weeks later, the U.S. Army expelled the war veterans from the national capital. In response to that experience, the federal district directly governed by the U.S. Congress,[3] Washington, D.C., was excluded from the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act which forbade the use of the U.S. military for domestic police activity.

The practice of war-time military bonuses began in 1776, as payment for the difference between what a soldier earned and what he could have earned had he not enlisted.[4] Breaking with tradition, the veterans of the Spanish-American War did not receive a bonus and, after World War I, their not receiving a military service bonus became a political matter when WWI veterans received only a $60 bonus. The American Legion, created in 1919, led a political movement for an additional bonus.[5]

On May 15, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed a bill granting bonuses to veterans of World War I, saying: "patriotism... bought and paid for is not patriotism." Congress overrode his veto a few days later,[5] enacting the World War Adjusted Compensation Act. 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 (2010: $7,899). Amounts of $50 or less were immediately paid. All other amounts were issued as Certificates of Service maturing in 20 years.[6]

Some 3,662,374 military service certificates were issued, with a face value of $3.638 billion (2010: $43.7 billion). Congress established a trust fund to receive 20 annual payments of $112 million that, with interest, would finance the 1945 disbursement of the $3.638 billion due the veterans. Meanwhile, veterans could borrow up to 22.5% of the certificate's face value from the fund; but in 1931, because of the Great Depression, Congress increased the maximum value of such loans to 50% of the certificate's face value.[7] Although there was Congressional support for the immediate redemption of the military service certificates, President Hoover and Republican congressmen opposed such action; they reasoned that the government would have to increase taxes to cover the costs of the payout, and thus any potential recovery would be slowed.[8]

The Veterans of Foreign Wars continued to press the federal government to allow the early redemption of military service certificates.[9]

In January 1932, a march of 25,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians, dubbed "Cox's Army", had marched on Washington, D.C, the largest demonstration to date in the nation's capital, setting a precedent for future marches by the unemployed.


On June 15, the House of Representatives passed the Wright Patman Bonus Bill which would have moved forward the date for World War I veterans to receive their cash bonus.

Most of the Bonus Army camped in a 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 (now Section C of Anacostia Park). The camps, built from materials scavenged from a nearby rubbish dump, 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 prove they had been honorably discharged.

The Bonus Army massed at the United States Capitol on June 17 as the U.S. Senate defeated the Bonus Bill by a vote of 62-18.

Police shooting

The marchers remained at their campsite waiting for President Hoover to act. On July 28, 1932, Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the police to remove the Bonus Army veterans from their camp. When the veterans moved back into it, they rushed two policemen trapped on the second floor of a building. The cornered police drew their revolvers and shot two veterans, William Hushka and Eric Carlson, who died later.[10][11]

William Hushka (1895–1932) was an immigrant to the United States from Lithuania. When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, he sold his butcher shop in St. Louis, Missouri and joined the United States Army. After the war he lived in Chicago, Illinois.[11] Hushka is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Eric Carlson (1894 – July 28, 1932) was a U.S. veteran from Oakland, California. He fought in the trenches of France in World War I.[11][12][13] He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.[14]

When told of the shootings, President Hoover ordered the army to evict the Bonus Army from Washington.

U.S. Army intervention

At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch. The Bonus Marchers, believing the troops were marching in their honor, cheered the troops until Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the spectators to yell, "Shame! Shame!"

Shacks that members of the Bonus Army erected on the Anacostia Flats burning after the confrontation with the military.

After the cavalry charged, the infantry, with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, an arsenical vomiting agent, entered the camps, evicting veterans, families, and camp followers. The veterans fled across the Anacostia River to their largest camp and President Hoover ordered the assault stopped. However Gen. MacArthur, feeling the Bonus March was a Communist attempt to overthrow the U.S. government, ignored the President and ordered a new attack. Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested.[11] A veteran's wife miscarried. When 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack, a government investigation reported he died of enteritis, while a hospital spokesman said the tear gas "didn't do it any good."[15]

During the military operation, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, later President of the United States, served as one of MacArthur's junior aides.[16] Believing it wrong for the Army's highest-ranking officer to lead an action against fellow American war veterans, he strongly advised MacArthur against taking any public role: "I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there," he said later. "I told him it was no place for the Chief of Staff."[17] Despite his misgivings, Eisenhower later wrote the Army's official incident report which endorsed MacArthur's conduct.[18]


MGM released the movie Gabriel Over the White House in March 1933. Produced by William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures, it depicted a fictitious President Hammond who, in the film's opening scenes, refuses to deploy the military against a march of the unemployed and instead creates an "Army of Construction" to work on public works projects until the economy recovers.[19] First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt judged the movie's treatment of veterans superior to Hoover's.[20]

The Bonus Army incident proved disastrous for Hoover's chances at re-election; he lost the 1932 election in a landslide to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

During the presidential campaign of 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt opposed the veterans' bonus demands.[21] When they organized a second demonstration in May 1933, he provided the marchers with a campsite in Virginia and provided them three meals a day. Administration officials, led by presidential confidant Louis Howe, tried to negotiate an end to the protest. Roosevelt arranged for his wife Eleanor to visit the site unaccompanied. She lunched with the veterans and listened to them perform songs. She reminisced about her memories of seeing troops off to World War I and welcoming them home. The most she could offer was a promise of positions in the newly created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).[20] One veteran commented: "Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife". In a press conference following her visit, the First Lady described her reception as courteous and praised the marchers, highlighting how comfortable she felt despite critics of the marchers who described them as Communists and criminals.[20]

Roosevelt later issued an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the CCC, exempting them from the normal requirement that applicants be unmarried and under the age of 25.[22] Congress, where Democrats held majorities in both houses, passed the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act in 1936 authorizing the immediate payment of the $2 billion in WWI bonuses over the President's veto.[23] The House vote was 324 to 61,[24] and the Senate vote was 76 to 19.[25]

See also


  1. Schmidt, Hans, Maverick Marine: General Smedley D. Butler and the Contradictions of American Military History (U. Press of Kentucky 1987) pp. 218-219. ISBN 978-0-8131-0957-2 (paper)
  2. "'Take Job in the Forest or Go Home' Is Alternative Given to Bonus Boys", "Middlesboro (KY) Daily News, May 17, 1933, p1; "Bonus Marchers Weaken; Accept Jobs in Ax Corps", Milwaukee Journal, May 20, 1933, p1
  3. U.S. Constitution, Article I. Section 8. Clause 17)
  4. The practice derived from British legislation passed in the 1592-93 session of Parliament that provided medical care and maintenance for disabled veterans and bonuses for serving soldiers. Similar legislation for disabled veterans only was later progressively passed by English North American colonies beginning with Virginia in 1624. In August 1776, Congress adopted the first National pension law providing half pay for life for disabled veterans. Considerable pressure was applied to expand benefits to match the British system for serving soldiers and sailors but had little support from the colonial government until mass desertions at Valley Forge which threatened the existence of the Continental Army led George Washington to become a strong advocate. Congress progressively passed legislation from 1788 covering pensions and bonuses, eventually extending eligibility to widows in 1836. Before World War I, the soldiers' military service bonus (adjusted for rank) was land and money — a Continental Army private received 100 acre and $80.00 (2012: $2,105) at war's end, while a Maj. Gen. received 1100 acre. In 1855, Congress increased the land-grant minimum to 160 acre, and reduced the eligibility requirements to fourteen days of military service, or one battle; moreover, the bonus also applied to veterans of any Indian war. The provision of land eventually became a major political issue, particularly in Tennessee where almost 40% of arable land had been given to veterans as part of their bonus. By 1860, 73500000 acre had been issued and lack of available arable land led to its abandonment and replacement with a cash system.
  5. 5.0 5.1 David Greenberg, Calvin Coolidge (NY: Henry Holt, 2006), 78-9
  6. Dickson and Allen, 29
  7. Dickson and Allen, 37-8
  8. Dickson and Allen, 34
  9. Stephen R. Ortiz, "The 'New Deal' for Veterans: The Economy Act, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Origins of the New Deal," Journal of Military History, vol. 70 (2006), 434-5
  10. New York Times: "Veteran dies of wounds," August 2, 1932, accessed August 30, 2011
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 TIME: "Heroes: Battle of Washington," August 8, 1932, accessed August 30, 2011: "Last week William Hushka's Bonus for $528 suddenly became payable in full when a police bullet drilled him dead in the worst public disorder the capital has known in years."
  12. Mentioned in "The March of the Bonus Army" video, running 30 min. Retrieved from 2011-2-4.
  13. "Bonus Army Spectacle, U.S. Capital, 1932: What Really Happened," Section VI. Two Shootings at Glassford Camp from Suburban Emergency Management Project (SEMP), Biot Report #635: July 18, 2009. Retrieved 2011-2-8
  14. Bonus Expeditionary Force Martyrs Hushka & Carlson (1932), DC Labor Map, retrieved 2011-2-8
  15. Dickson and Allen, 182-3
  16. Dickson and Allen, 170-4, 180
  17. Wukovits, John F. (2006). Eisenhower. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 43. ISBN 0-230-61394-2. Retrieved on 15 June 2011. 
  18. D'Este, Carlo (2002). Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 223. ISBN 0-8050-5687-4. Retrieved on 15 June 2011. 
  19. Internet Movie Database: Gabriel Over the White House (1933), accessed December 15, 2010
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Blanche Wiesen Cook , Eleanor Roosevelt (NY: Viking, 1999), vol. 2, 44-6
  21. New York Times: "Governor Lays Plans for Trip," October 17, 1932, accessed December 18, 2010
  22. H.W. Brands, Traitor to his Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt(NY: Doubleday, 2008), 391
  23. New York Times: "Bonus Bill Becomes Law," January 28, 1936, accessed December 20, 2010
  24. New York Times: "House Swiftly Overrides Bonus Veto by Roosevelt," January 25, 1936, accessed September 3, 2011
  25. New York Times: "Bonus Bill Becomes Law," January 28, 1936, accessed September 3, 2011


  • Burner, David. (1979). Herbert Hoover: A Public Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-46134-7.
  • Daniels, Roger. (1971). The Bonus March: An Episode of the Great Depression. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing.
  • Dickson, Paul, and Thomas B. Allen. (2004). The Bonus Army: An American Epic. New York: Walker and Company. ISBN 0-8027-1440-4.
  • Dickson, Paul, and Thomas B. Allen. "Marching On History," in Smithsonian, February 2003
  • James, D. Clayton. (1970). The Years of MacArthur, Volume I, 1880-1941. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Lisio, Donald J. (1974). The President and Protest: Hoover, Conspiracy, and the Bonus Riot. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.
  • Smith, Richard Norton. (1984). An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-46034-X.
  • Liebovich, Louis W. (1994). Bylines in Despair: Herbert Hoover, the Great Depression, and the U.S. News Media ISBN 0-275-94843-9
  • Bennett, Michael J. (1999). When Dreams Come True: The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America ISBN 1-57488-218-X

External links

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