Yesterday I covered the events leading up to the Bonus Army’s march on D.C. The Bonus Army, camped in a Hooverville on the Anacostia Flats, held daily parades to bring attention to their cause. On June 17th, the United States Senate voted against the Wright Patman Bonus Bill, which had already been passed by the House and would have given the veterans their bonuses early, and as a result, the Bonus Army massed at the United States Capitol.
The Bonus Army, 43,000 strong, had descended on the nation’s capitol and upset the natural order of things. This army, led by former Army Sergeant Walter W. Waters, had worn out its welcome, and on July 28, 1932, the U.S. Attorney General ordered the veterans to be removed from government property. When police arrived to disperse the veterans, two policemen were cornered and they drew their weapons, shooting two veterans. These veterans, William Hushka and Eric Carlson, both died from their wounds. When word of the shooting made it to President Hoover, he ordered the United States Army to remove the Bonus Army from their Hooverville camp.
Soldiers, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, armed with bayonet-fixed rifles, adamsite gas, and tanks, arrived by mid-afternoon. As the soldiers and tanks headed to the Bonus Army’s camp, those watching–including the Bonus Army–believed that the troops were there to lend support. They were in for quite a surprise when Major George S. Patton ordered a cavalry charge.
Once the arsenic-laced vomiting agent was blasted on the veterans and their families, they quickly evacuated their make-shift community. At this point, President Hoover ordered the assault to stop. General MacArthur did not think it best for America’s future to stop; therefore, MacArthur commanded that the United States Army continue to push back the Bonus Army and destroy their camp.
General Douglas MacArthur believed that:
the movement was actually far deeper and more dangerous than an effort to secure funds from a nearly depleted federal treasury.
Over 1,000 were injured, and two more died; one of the deceased was 12-week-old Bernard Myers.
At the end of the night, General MacArthur held a press conference so that he could justify his actions.
Had the President not acted today, had he permitted this thing to go on for twenty-four hours more, he would have been faced with a grave situation which would have caused a real battle.
He was truly under the belief that the Bonus Army was communist. He stated that:
Had he [Hoover] let it go on another week, I believe the institutions of our Government would have been severely threatened.
The country did not look fondly on President Hoover’s decision to use the United States Army to attack fellow Americans. As a result of this, Hoover lost the 1932 Presidential Election by a landslide. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States of America. The problem for the Bonus Army is that he also opposed the veteran’s demands; however, he was more respectful of those that had fought for America and her safety.
When the Bonus Army held a second rally in May of 1933, President Roosevelt provided them with a campsite and three meals a day. President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, played a large role in providing these veterans with some sort of help, even if it wasn’t what they asked for. Eleanor Roosevelt promised positions to those in the Bonus Army into the newly created Civilian Conservation Corps. This would provide these men jobs, in a time where jobs were scare. This would not give them the instant cash that they desired from their bonuses.
It would take almost three more years, but on January 27, 1936, the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act was passed, which allowed the bonuses to be immediately paid out.