B.E.F. The Whole Story of the Bonus Army - 1933

Front Cover, B.E.F. The Whole Story of The Bonus Army, 1933.

Front Cover, B.E.F. The Whole Story of The Bonus Army, 1933. GGA Image ID # 17e056082c

Walter W. Waters, William C. White, B.E.F. The Whole Story of The Bonus Army, New York: The John Day Company, 1933. Reprinted 1969 New York: Arno Press & The New York Times. The Cover from the Reprint is Shown Above for Readability.

Front Cover, B.E.F. The Whole Story of the Bonus Army, 1933, from Original Printing.

Front Cover, B.E.F. The Whole Story of the Bonus Army, 1933, from Original Printing. GGA Image ID # 18112fa9c5

COLLABORATOR’S NOTE

I have written this story of the Bonus Army as it was told to me by W. W. Waters and from various documentary material which he collected.

Independently, I have checked to my own satisfaction Mr. Waters' statements, wherever possible, against newspaper accounts and in conversation with Washington newspaper men, with various Washington officials, many of whom are mentioned in this book, and with numerous members of the B.E.F.

William C. White.

The Bonus Army

After World War I, the US government promised in 1924 that service members would receive a bonus for their service in 1945. The bonus was also known as the “Tombstone Bonus.”

Then, the Great Depression hit, beginning with the stock market collapse of 1929. By 1932, the Depression was still dragging on, with no end in sight. Out of sheer desperation, some veterans decided to march on Washington to ask for the bonus right away.

Four years later, in 1936, the veterans did get their bonus when Congress voted the money over President Franklin Roosevelt’s veto. In 1944, while World War II was still raging, Congress passed the G.I. Bill to help veterans receive higher education.

The B.E.F. began as a group of men demanding the pre-payment of their adjusted service certificates voted by Congress in 1924. It soon became for a vast number of men a means of protest against the economic conditions in our country in 1932, a safety valve for dissatisfaction.

This book is a narrative, historically accurate, of the rise, the history and the dispersal of the B.E.F. —and nothing more.

WALTER W. WATERS,
Commander, B.E.F.

Introduction Excerpt

Many Groups of citizens have marched on Washington at one time or another for various purposes but never until June and July, 1932, when the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces” camped in the capital did such a movement include so many followers.

Sixty thousand to eighty thousand American ex-service men in all were in that “army” at various times. I have decided to set down the facts concerning the B.E.F. for many reasons.

The B.E.F. began as a group of men demanding the pre-payment of their adjusted service certificates voted by Congress in 1924.

It soon became for a vast number of men a means of protest against the economic conditions in our country in 1932, a safety valve for dissatisfaction.

It was not recognized as that at this time. It will be remembered as that in American history. The spontaneity which marked its rise and the great popular appeal which brought twenty thousand men to Washington in the first two weeks were something new in American life.

Coming three thousand miles overland with a few hundred of these men as their leader and soon commanding thousands of them, I can tell of the motives and desires which led men to initiate the Bonus March.

Their ambitions have been seriously impugned by high official sources. It has been charged that the Bonus March was inspired, sponsored and supported by Communists.

It has been said that the marchers intended to foment revolution and to take steps to overthrow our Government. These slurs on honest, American ex-service men must be corrected.

I tell this story for the sake of putting the facts about the B.E.F. on accurate record.

My position gave me an opportunity to see an amazing cross-cut, a close-up view of American life, in contacts with high government officials, in daily meetings with the men in the ranks, and from thousands of letters received.

In this record I have tried to describe that view of America to the reader. It is not a class-conscious America. It is a poverty conscious America, demanding that something be done about it.

The final eviction of the B.E.F. led to one of the most disgraceful episodes in recent American history. The full truth about the steps that led to that eviction and about the event itself must be on record.

There was murder done on "Black Thursday,” July 28th. The methods of eviction on that day revealed a stupidity and a cupidity among Washington politicians that is almost unbelievable.

The event itself disclosed to thousands of American citizens who had never before thought particularly about it that the men whom they elect to represent them too often forget who it was that put them in power.

This story is told with no malice or bitterness toward any one but I evade nothing that is necessary to the truthful recording of this chapter of recent history.

This book is not an attack on any political party. I purposely withheld publication until after the elections to prevent any one from supposing such motives.

I have refused and I shall refuse all offers to let any special group profit by my experiences. I sold out to no one. I was broke when I began the Bonus March. I was broke and in debt when I finished with it.

I do not want to include arguments for or against the immediate payment of the Bonus nor pleas for bigger and better Bonus armies. I hope that we shall never need to have another one.

Rather, here is a narrative, historically accurate, of the rise, the history, and the dispersal of the B.E.F.--and nothing more.

Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. The March of the Three Hundred
  • 2. The Battle of East St. Louis
  • 3. Laying the Siege
  • 4. The Red Mirage
  • 5. The Camp at Anacostia
  • 6. The Men at Anacostia
  • 7. The Coming of the Chiselers
  • 8. Sitting on the Conscience of Congress
  • 9. The Steps That Led to Eviction
  • 10. The Eviction
  • 11. The Rout
  • Appendix One: Breakdown by State of Servicemen Who Came to Washington DC Based on Roster Sheets of the B.E.F.
  • Appendix Two: Transcription of Police Department Memo Regarding Communism in the Bonus Army
  • Appendix Three: General Glassford's Evacuation Order
  • Appendix Four: President Hoover's Statement About Calling Out Troops Dated 28 July 1932
  • Appendix Five: Letter of the Commissioners Requesting Call Out the Army of 28 July 1932
  • Appendix Six: Who Fired the Shacks (Temporary Camps of the B.E.F.)
  • Appendix Seven: Whence the Bonus?

Bonus Army Memoir

In the following memoir, World War I veteran W.W. Waters recalls the high unemployment and low morale he witnessed on the streets of Portland, Oregon, during the first years of the Great Depression. Facing a similar situation himself, Waters was a founding member of the Bonus Expeditionary Force, a collective of veterans who marched from Oregon to Washington D.C. in the spring of 1932 demanding immediate payment of their war bonuses.

In my ceaseless beating about the city I found family after family in the same general condition or worse. I saw men half clad, in threadbare clothing, pacing the streets in soleless shoes. On their faces was the same look, part of hope, part of bewilderment, as they searched for a chance to earn a few dollars at honest work. I talked with hundreds of these men and found that, with few exceptions, they wanted not charity but work that would enable them to lives and to regain their self-respect…

These men did think and talk a great deal about the so-called Bonus. The name “Bonus” is unfortunate. It is not a gift, as the word implies. It is a payment of money to compensate those men who served in the Army for the difference in pay between that of service men and non-service men in 1918. The bill, asking payment in full of the adjusted compensation for wartime service, was introduced by Representative Patman of Texas and, during the early winter of 1931, was pending in Congress. The majority of veterans were hoping that it would pass.

These men had fallen far down into the valley of despair. Some push was necessary to start them out and up over the hill. Jobs would have provided the best sort of impetus but there were no jobs. The Bonus, a lump sum of money, could act in the same fashion. Debts could be met, doctors’ bills paid, a fast-fraying credit renewed, and one man could look another in the eye once more…

The point, continually forgotten, is that the Bonus in these men’s minds became a substitute or a symbol for that long dreamt of new start, a job. These men had nothing to which to look forward except to the shiny shoulders of the man in front of them in the breadline. Whenever I asked these men which they would rather have, the Bonus or a job, the replay was nearly always the same: “A job, of course. But where’s a job coming from? I’ve looked every day for over a year and haven’t found one.”

W.W. Waters and William C. White, B.E.F. The Whole Story of The Bonus Army (New York: The John Day Company, 1933),  pgs. 6-10.

Library of Congress Catalog Listing

  • Personal name: Waters, W. W. (Walter W.), 1898-
  • Main title: B.E.F.; the whole story of the bonus army [by] W. W. Waters as told to William C. White.
  • Published/Created: New York, Arno Press, 1969.
  • Description: 288 p. illus., ports. 23 cm.
  • LC classification: F199 .W38 1969
  • Related names: White, William Carter, 1881-1964.
  • LC Subjects: Bonus Expeditionary Forces.
  • Notes: Reprint of the 1933 ed. with new editorial note.
  • Series: Mass violence in America
  • LCCN: 77090195
  • Dewey class no.: 976.91/6
  • Type of material: Book
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