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What is the Bonus Army?

The Great Depression caused many people to lose their source of livelihood. This also led army veterans to claim what the government promised them. But did the government keep its promise?

The Bonus Army was composed mainly of World War I veterans. The Army was created with the hopes of cashing on the government’s bonus certificates that were scheduled to be paid in 1945. The Army’s efforts in 1932 for a payout were unsuccessful.

The Bonus Army

The Bonus Army, also known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force, was a group of World War I veterans who converged in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1932. The exact number of members varies, but it was estimated to have grown between 10,000 and 25,000. (Source: Britannica)

The Army was an offshoot of the effects of the Great Depression on the veterans and their intention to cash in on their veterans’ bonus certificates to help them endure the depression. In 1924, Congress approved the Adjusted Compensation certificates.

These certificates were to pay $1.25 for each day served overseas, $1.00 for each day served locally. On top of that, the certificate would collect 4 percent interest with an additional 25 percent tacked on upon payment. (Source: Zinn Ed Project)

The bonus had one catch. It was only redeemable in 1945. The veterans could not wait for it, as most of them were feeling the impact of the Great Depression. A group of 1,000 unemployed veterans soon came to Washington, seeking to cash in on their certificates to help them in their financial difficulties. Soon after, the group grew and grew as more veterans caught wind of the peaceful protests conducted.

The Army moved into abandoned shacks and built tents and huts in the nation’s capital, by the Anacostia River. The protests gained traction, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing a bill to authorize the immediate payout of the veterans but was not successful.

The Senate rejected the bill, causing discouragement of most of the veterans. Most of the protestors went home, but around a few thousand remained, continuing the protests. (Source: Britannica)

Hoover’s Response and Consequences

The protests have started to create an atmosphere of restlessness, with some almost breaking out in riots. Local authorities ordered the Army’s camps to be evacuated, resulting in a skirmish that killed two police officers and two army veterans. (Source: Britannica)

Then-president Herbert Hoover intervened, calling on the Army to end rioting and defiance to authority. The Army, led by Brigadier General Perry Milles, responded to the president’s call. Milles was accompanied by General Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. Army chief of staff. Their forces drove out protestors and destroyed encampments using force.

The Army advanced with fixed bayonets, a machine-gun detachment, troops with tear gas canisters, and six midget tanks. Many thought the matter was not handled properly. Still, Hoover accepted the responsibility, endorsing MacArthur’s claim that the Bonus Army protestors included radicals whose main goal was to overthrow the government. This led to Hoover’s loss in the next election, giving way for Franklin Roosevelt. (Source: Digital History)

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