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Nov-30-2011 02:42printcommentsVideo

The Day the U.S. Army Attacked WWI Veterans & their Kids

Fifty-five veterans were injured and 135 arrested. A veteran's wife miscarried. 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in a tear gas attack.

Bonus Army marchers confront the police 28 July 1932
Bonus Army marchers confront the police 28 July 1932.
Courtesy: Wikipedia

(SALEM) - The police attacks on U.S. War Veterans taking part in the Occupy protests, are not a new phenomenon in America; in fact there is quite a history of both police and military waging attacks on unarmed U.S. citizens in this country.

The beginning wasn't the Democratic Convention of '68 or the Kent State or Jackson State police and military massacres on civilians that opened this wound at first.

In the 20th Century, violence was first carried out against World War One Vets and their families and supporters, during the Depression, in 1932.

It is an ugly period in history and the players were then President Herbert Hoover, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell, and senior Army officers Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. When later discussing the military operation against U.S. World War One Vets at the U.S. capitol, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, later President of the United States, it was "wrong for the Army's highest-ranking officer to lead an action against fellow American war veterans".

All races- All American- were represented.

"I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch not to go down there," Dwight D. Eisenhower would later say of General Douglas MacArthur's decision to launch a deadly attack on protesting U.S. World War One Veterans and their families.

Eisenhower was one of MacArthur's junior aides at the time, and while he said he strongly advised the future World War Two military leader against the attack, it is also true that he officially endorsed MacArthur's conduct the day the U.S. Army attacked what came to be known as the 'Bonus Army', approximately 43,000 strong, among them families and supporters of the military, and those 17,000 Vets who were seeking an immediate cash payment.

Donation for the Bonus Army

Wikipedia explains that a large number of the war veterans were living in poverty and unable to find work as was the fate of so many Americans surviving during the Great Depression.

The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 awarded the veterans bonuses in the form of certificates, however those were not redeemable until 1945 and many of the Vets knew they would likely not live to see 1945. The certificates, issued to war veteran who qualified, had a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment plus compound interest.

The Bonus Army's primary demand, was the immediate cash payment of their certificates. Wright Patman, who was elected to the House of Representatives in Texas's 1st congressional district in 1928, introduced a bill that would have mandated the immediate payment of the bonus to World War I veterans in 1932.

This bill is the reason that the Bonus Army came to Washington.

Patman had a specific reason for offering this support; he was a machine gunner in WWI and served in both enlisted and officer ranks.

Occupy Washington 1933

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.
- Wikipedia page on the Bonus Army

Marine Gen Smedley Butler

However, the superstar who came to support the movement was one of, if not the finest military leader in the history of the United States.

Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler is the two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner who criticized what we today call the military, industrial complex and he is known in popular culture for the famous speech, 'War is a Racket'.

He encouraged the demonstrators to hold their ground and publicly backed the effort, in person.

The Bonus Army represented the entire country.

You could not find a more loyal officer in Smedley Butler, or in MacArthur, a more disloyal paranoid murderer. That is my opinion, but it was the opinion of millions in the 1930's; sadly they're mostly all if not completely gone now to add their voices to mine.

The Wright Patman Bonus Bill passed in the House of Representatives on 15 June 1932. Two days later, the Bonus Army moved en mass to the U.S. Capitol to await a decision from the U.S. Senate, which defeated the Bonus Bill and a lot of hope for veterans, by a vote of 62-18.

The demonstrators were mostly destitute and had no homes to return to, they held their ground until 28 July, when they were ordered to be removed from government property by William D. Mitchell.

The Washington police encountered resistance, and opened fire on the veterans and their supporters, leaving two former World War One soldiers, William Hushka and Eric Carlson, with mortal wounds that they would soon succumb to.

Upon hearing of this shooting, U.S. President Herbert Hoover sent in the U.S. Army to clear the veterans' campsite. Commanding infantry and cavalry units and a half dozen tanks, soldiers under the command of Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, attacked the Bonus Army marchers, driving them out along with their wives and children.

The family shelters and all of the personal belongings of the families participating in the Bonus Army were burned and destroyed. In eerie retrospect, the event was like an early warning or even a premonition, into what would come in future wars, particularly Vietnam; where fire was frequently used as an all-consuming tool of war, swallowing up entire villages suspected of having relations with Communist guerrillas.

Attacking American WWI Veterans

It happened at 4:45 p.m. Wikipedia states that thousands of civil service employees left work early that day, lining the street to watch the confrontation. The Bonus Marchers apparently thought at first, that the troops were marching in their honor. They cheered the troops until Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the spectators to yell, "Shame! Shame!"

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. 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."

Psychological Nightmare

The camp prior to destruction

After MacArthur's attack

Today we know that those who serve in brutal wars suffer serious invisible wounds known as Post Traumatic Stress (PTS)* It seems clear that those injuries that didn't show physically, then often described only as 'shell shock' - a reference for injuries sustained by often constant bombings during trench warfare, were no aid in helping men find work.

It's hard to imagine what it must have done to the psyches of those who fought the Germans under terrible conditions in a war of human attrition, yet saved France, at least for a couple of decades.

It was revealed that McArthur had been ordered at one point to stand his soldiers down, but he ignored the order because he believed these Americans were "Communists". He would be known as a general who failed to follow orders at will and only paid for it at the end.

It is also a fact that he had the Army use gas on these men who had suffered the worst war crimes in '17 and '18, when the Germans attacked their ranks with Mustard Gas and men who didn't reach for their gas masks in time died agonizing deaths. One can only imagine what went through the minds of some of those men. It cost Hoover the next election.

The United States is again in economic upheaval but these vets were the first in recent history to feel the violent, deadly wrath from their government that those in Iran, China, Libya, Bahrain, Serbia and so many other places have felt from their governments.

The United States in this case, is exactly the same as those it so strongly criticizes.

* I am using the term PTS instead of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) because a growing number of people closely involved in working with sufferers, are increasingly discovering that PTS is not necessarily a 'disorder'. I believe invisible wound sounds vague but it is an appropriate description. The other injury similar in nature seen in large numbers of Veterans from the current wars, is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which is a result of contact with roadside bombs.

Wikipedia page on the Bonus Army

Wikipedia page on Wright Patman


Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 91 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Eileen Jones June 27, 2016 5:20 pm (Pacific time)

Today is almost parallel to then , I think we are on the verge of the same thing happening now. The elections are being corrupted by those who don' want Trump and this will open the door for Hillary..NOT GOOD ! This time it will be millions and I will be one of them. We have to stand strong for America.


C Ramsey March 10, 2016 4:56 am (Pacific time)

This made me want to vomit. Can't wait to bring this up next time my teacher says how great America was during the 20's.


Anonymous June 3, 2014 5:46 pm (Pacific time)

"All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied." except for the obviously biased opinion about FDR from the editor...


Mario February 5, 2014 6:32 am (Pacific time)

And still vets get treated in a similar fashion by politicians that are nothing more than armchair generals.


WILBUR JAY COOK January 29, 2013 10:40 am (Pacific time)

The promise of health benefits to retired military personel is now being broken by obama. He is cutting the medical payments breaking the enlistment contract. shame on him but he does not care about the military.


Anonymous December 1, 2011 8:27 am (Pacific time)

I imagine Japanese-Americans then and now, do not regard FDR as a "great man," nor Harry Truman.

Editor: I don't imagine they do, however FDR was far better that Truman, the interment camps are a matter of national shame.  


COLLI November 30, 2011 3:37 pm (Pacific time)

I can remember my grandparents telling me about the bonus army and what happened to it while I was studying it in Grade School history. Neither of them thought much of Douglas MacArthur or Herbert Hoover from that time on.

Politicians never hesitate to ask young men and women to risk their lives but lying is their stock and trade . . . especially when it comes to veterans. It appears that hasn't changed one iota since the Bonus Army.
This is an excellent article Tim and contains facts well worth remembering and communicating.

Tim King: Thanks so much Colli!


Charlene Young November 30, 2011 12:59 pm (Pacific time)

FDR proved early in his administration that he was an unfit leader, and no friend of veterans, nor active-duty military. History clearly reflects that this incompetent prolonged the depression and allowed marxists to establish a strong foothold in America. A dreadful man, who now is being eclipsed.

Editor: FDR made mistakes but he was a great man and outshined Hoover, and  a similar event happened the next year under FDR - he was wrong for not assisting the veterans, but talk about a member of the 1%, it's hard to expect any good decisions from the rich, you should know that by now.. 

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