THE SAD WINGS OF DESTINY:
BOGUS ARMY, A HURRICANE AND DRONES
PART 1 of 2
by Steven Neill
August 17, 2013
Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. George Washington
Today, the federal government has the US Constitution on a rack and is slowly pulling it to pieces. This is no accident; under the guise of “security” our freedoms are being stripped away and those who object to it are being directly threatened from the highest office in the land. On June 7, 2013 President Obama stated: “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.”
Obama’s open threat shows the growing attitudes of many in government today; obey, or be punished. This is not a new attitude; in fact, this was the attitude of three of the most powerful Americans of the 1930’s. In what has become a forgotten tragedy, President Herbert Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur and FDR showed just how willing our government is to use force on Americans.
Beginning with the French & Indian War, it was a common practice to pay people bonuses in cash or land grants to entice them to enlist in the military. This practice was stopped in 1917 by the Selective Service Act, when they had to draft 2.8 million men to serve in WWI because it was such an unpopular war. The draftees were organized into four categories, one of which exempted draftees working in essential defense industries from active duty. By the end of the war, those staying home to work had earned about ten times what the combat troops had earned and many retained their positions when the US went into a recession following the war.
With a progressive mindset settling over the nation, the veterans soon began to argue that they should receive "adjusted compensation" as reparation for the wages they lost while serving overseas. Though opposed by Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Congress created the "adjusted universal compensation" as a bonus in 1924. These interest earning government bonds would be paid out to the veterans in 1945.
With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, many of the vets became desperate for the money promised to them earlier. When Congress began to debate a bill in March 1932 that would allow an early payment, unemployed veteran Walter W. Waters began to drum up backing in Portland, Oregon for a veterans march on Washington DC to support the bill. As the bill stalled in Congress, Waters and 300 former vets hopped on trains and began “riding the rails” to DC.
This “ride” created a media circus and soon, former vets from all over America began hopping on trains to go to DC. Within a few weeks, over 20,000 vets and their families showed up at the nation’s capital. The group was soon nicknamed the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF) and enjoyed massive support from all over America.
"I was horrified to see plain evidence of hunger in their faces." -Evalyn Walsh McLean
The group created a main camp they named “Camp Marks” in an old dump along the Anacostia River. This dump supplied much of the materials needed to create their own “Hooverville.” Donations of food, clothing, cigarettes and other needed supplies flowed in and soon the camp more resembled a small city than a shantytown. There were streets, a Post Office, barber shop, and even their own newspaper.
Camp life was orderly as alcohol, weapons, fighting, and begging were all prohibited as were communists and anarchists. So well behaved were they that the Police Chief Pelham Glassford, himself a decorated WWI general, sympathized with his fellow vets. He toured the camp almost daily, organized medical care, provided building materials, solicited local merchants for food donations, and even contributed $773 out of his own pocket for provisions.
Facing a depression of epic proportion, Congress was unlikely to pass the “Bonus Bill.” Rumors were also spreading of communist infiltration of the BEF. These rumors took root within the halls of a government that had already prepared to stop civil unrest in DC by using US Army troops supplied with tanks, machine guns and poisonous gas.
The “Bonus Bill” was brought to a vote by the US House of Representatives and passed on June 15, 1932. Some 8,000 vets gathered at the capitol while 10,000 more were in Camp Marks the next day as the Senate debated the bill. The debate lasted until 9:30 that night and the bill was defeated. When Waters reported the news to the awaiting vets, there was a moment when it looked like violence might breakout but instead, someone started singing “America” and the men went back to the camp.
Over the next few days, many vets went home but Waters and around 20,000 vets stayed with the stated intention of waiting until 1945 if needed to get their bonus. Weeks passed and President Hoover, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, and Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, increasingly feared that the Bonus Army would turn violent. Hoover was also concerned about the veterans who had begun to occupy local abandoned buildings.
On July 28th, Hoover; having had enough of the vets occupying the vacant buildings, ordered police Chief Glassford on July 28th, to forcibly remove them. Glassford and a hundred officers moved in but the vets refused to budge. The confrontation turned ugly when a vet threw a brick at the police who retaliated with their nightsticks. Then, shots rang out and one vet was dead and another mortally wounded while three police were injured.
Seeing that the police were not going to be able to evict the vets on their own, Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur assumed command of the local US Army units and ordered them to move the vets from downtown. Major George S. Patton leading nearly two hundred mounted cavalry with sabers drawn and pennants flying, rode into the crowds of vets and bystanders who were attracted by the commotion. Behind them came nearly three hundred infantry men with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets followed closely by five tanks.
A Nightmare Come to Life
Fred Blacher later recalled: "By God, all of a sudden I see
these cavalrymen come up the avenue and then swinging down to The
Mall. I thought it was a parade. I asked a gentleman standing there,
I said, do you know what's going on? What holiday is this? He says,
“It's no parade, bud.” He says, “The Army is coming
in to wipe out all these bonus people down here.”
Moving in unison, the soldiers marched towards the vets and the bystanders that had been attracted by the commotion. Halting before the crowds, the soldiers donned their gas masks then tossed hundreds of gas grenades at them. As the clouds of evil gray gas stung the eyes and burned the lungs of the men, women and children, the cavalry pushed everyone off the streets while the grenades started dozens of fires.
MacArthur, thriving in the chaos rode in his staff car like Mars, the god of war. A bystander, with tear streaked face and blood red eyes ran to him and yelled “'The American flag means nothing to me after this” to which MacArthur responded “put this man under arrest if he opens his mouth again.”
As twilight approached, the troops stopped at the outskirts of Camp Marks. General MacArthur gave the vets twenty minutes to remove the women and children from the camp before he moved in. Like clockwork, the soldiers attacked with tear gas and fixed bayonets clearing the camp. One baby died from gas inhalation as its mother was fleeing the camp. Then, the soldiers torched the camp which turned the night sky an angry red as the flames consumed the rickety buildings and was seen for miles around the Nation’s Capital.
The tired and overwhelmed vets along with their wives and children began the four mile march towards the Maryland border and Army National Guard trucks that waited to drive them to Pennsylvania. As the flames were dying in the once peaceful town, General MacArthur called a Press Conference saying: "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. Had he let it go on another week, I believe the institutions of our Government would have been severely threatened." By morning, all that remained of Camp Marks were charred ruins of buildings and dreams. All told, three people died, fifty-four were injured and the police made 135 arrests.
Later, several eyewitnesses, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, insisted that President Hoover’s orders forbade the troops from entering Camp Marks and several curriers arrived from the White House confirming those orders. In fact Ike later wrote in his book “At Ease” that MacArthur, "said he was too busy and did not want either himself or his staff bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders." Eisenhower put it more bluntly during an interview with the late historian Stephen Ambrose. "I told that dumb son-of-a-bitch he had no business going down there."
Even George S. “Blood & Guts” Patton, a man who revered duty, had mixed emotions, calling it a 'most distasteful form of service.' Within months he criticized the Army's tactics, believing they violated every precept of handling civil unrest. Still, he commended both sides: 'It speaks volumes for the high character of the men that not a shot was fired. In justice to the marchers, it should be pointed out that had they really wanted to start something, they had a great chance here, but refrained.' And while Patton was disgusted that 'Bolsheviks' were in the mix, he considered most of the Bonus Army 'poor, ignorant men, without hope, and without really evil intent.' To his dismay, the routed marchers included Joseph Angelo, who 14 years earlier had saved the wounded Patton's life by pulling him to safety from a foxhole.
The event was broadcast and shown in movie theaters across the nation generating anger at Hoover and the Army and sympathy for the vets with their plight. Upon learning of the Bonus Army incident, Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked: "Well, this will elect me." Roosevelt was correct; he buried Hoover in November.
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Foolishly believing they had an advocate in FDR, the BEF began drifting back to Washington and by May, 1933, some 3,000 of them were housed in an abandoned fort outside of Washington. Wanting to score some political points, but not wanting to pay them their bonus, FDR sent his wife Eleanor to meet with the vets prompting one to say ““Hoover sent the Army; Roosevelt sent his wife.” She went with an offer for the vets to join the New Deal public works program called the Civilian Conservation Corps for $1 a day and all the food they could eat. Some 2,600 did join. For part two click below.
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Is Not Reason, It Is Not Eloquence — It Is Force”
2. Barack Obama “If people can’t trust the government, then we’re going to have some problems here.”
3. Bounty System
4. Conscription in the United States
5. Hoover & the Depression: The Bonus Army
6. The 'Bonus Army' War in Washington
7. Bonus Army
8. Hoover & the Depression: The Bonus Army
9. The Bonus Army: How a Protest Led to the GI Bill
10. The Bonus March (May-July, 1932)
11. The Bonus Army (Digital History ID 3438)
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13. 1935 Labor Day Hurricane
14. Lee Davis, Natural Disasters Book Review
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16. Labor Day Hurricane of 1935
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© 2013 - Steven Neill - All Rights Reserve