When the US Military turned on its own: A Dark Day in US History


Bonus Marchers at Capitol June 17, 1932

Bonus Marchers at Capitol June 17, 1932

On This Date in History: We’ve heard that this is the worst economy “since the great depression.” I have taken issue with that as I think it is pure hyperbole and political posturing. In my view, our overall economic situation is more akin to the latter part of the Carter administration and early Reagan years. However, it could be argued that the banking crisis was potentially as troubling as the 1930’s but again, and argument might be made that the Savings and Loan crisis was a better barometer. But, in overall economic terms, its hard to make such a comparison. For instance, on June 17, 1932 a Washington newspaper said it was the “tensest day in the capital since the War.”

US Army with Tanks Prepare to Take on US Veterans

What was going on? Well, 10,000 World War I vets had gathered on the Capitol grounds in Washington DC. Across the Anacostia River were another 10,000 who had been living in huts made of scrap metal and other junk from a nearby junk pile. These vets also had their wives and children residing in their camp. They had gathered to see if they would get their money. In 1924, Congress had voted to award veterans of the Great War $1.25 for every day a soldier served overseas and a dollar for every day stateside. But, there was a catch. They didn’t get their “war bonus” until 1945. These men needed it in 1932 during some of the darkest days of the Depression. The US House of Representatives had voted to give them their bonuses then. But, the Senate voted against the measure by a 62-18 margin. Needless to say, the vets were pretty P’Oed.

Bonus Army Camp 1932

Bonus Army Camp 1932

So, the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” decided to stay in protest. Aside from the 10,000 across the river, the 10,000 in the Capitol had for weeks been camped out in some 20 sites, including partially demolished government buildings. What I don’t get is that Congress wouldn’t pony up the bonus money…today we’d call it a stimulus…but they did allocate $100,000 for the relocation of the bonus marchers any where they wanted to go. The politicians just wanted them out of town. But, few took up the offer and President Hoover refused to meet with them. About 500 did leave town but 1000 new ones took their place. The marchers started a single file “death march” in front of the Capitol and it lasted until July 16 when Congress adjourned. By that time, 17,000 had gathered to see their less than favorite legislators exit for recess.

Vets Used the Flag as a Weapon to Defend against Police

Vets Used the Flag as a Weapon to Defend against Police

With the politicians gone, one might think that the marchers would leave too. Nope. They stayed and the local authorities became nervous and on this date in 1932, the Bonus Expeditionary Force faced law enforcement officials and later their former comrades in arms.. The cops were ordered to clear all government buildings, presumably those that were in some state of demolition housing some of the vets. The old soldiers resisted and the cops started firing their weapons. Two US veterans of World War I who survived open warfare were killed by the police in their own country. So…what to do? Why call out the army!

Caesar and Ike Make Sure the Vets Get Out of Town

Caesar and Ike Make Sure the Vets Get Out of Town

By the late afternoon, a tank platoon, an infantry battalion and a cavalry squadron were on the scene to put down their fellow soldiers. Who better to be in command of the troops that General Douglas MacArthur. And who better to serve as his liason with the police but none other than Major Dwight D. Eisenhower, future Supreme Allied Commander and President of the United States. And if that’s not enough, why not get Major George S. Patton to lead the cavalry? Clearly outmatched, the old vets were pushed out by soldiers with fixed bayonets and cavalrymen with their sabres drawn.

Vet Camp Burns in Shadow of Capitol Dome

The UPI reported that “men, women and children fled shrieking across the broken ground, falling into excavations as they strove to avoid the rearing hoofs and sable points. Meantime, infantry on the south side had adjusted gas masks and were hurling tear gas bombs inot the block into which they had just driven the veterans.” Four hours later, the camps had been set ablaze and the protesters driven across the river to the Anacostia Flats camp. By 4am on the 29th, that shantyville was also burning and the marchers driven into Maryland. From their, they were told to not stop walking until they got to Pennsylvania.

Maybe MacArthur was trying to re-enact Sherman’s march to the sea. Or maybe he was practicing for his march back to Bataan. Well, maybe not, but it certainly was not a proud day for America’s armed forces and a dark spot on the public record of three heroes of World War II. However, it must have been tough to follow orders to turn on your own men…tough spot to be in. No word on where the Commander in Chief was at that time.

Weather Bottom Line:  We have a little frontal system coming down our way slowly.  Look for scattered showers and t’storms this afternoon and tonight.  The front should ease through on Thursday so rain chances will be in the picture for Thursday but they should diminish as the day progresses, provided the front doesnt slow down too much.  Friday we will be the slight beneficiaries of the front with the edge taken off the heat and humidity but, the front gets dragged back our way as a warm front as another storm system traverses the northern plains.  That should increase the prospects for rain by late Saturday and I suspect it will be more elevated by Saturday night.  The heat and humidity will again be tough after the warm front is dragged through but it remains to be seen if the follow up cold front actually gets here.  It’s too far out to say conclusively and I have other things to do today so we’ll wait and see.


4 Responses

  1. That’s a really interesting article. I had no idea that happened.

  2. Well, I’m back. Went to Nebraska to see some corn and my wife’s kinfolk. I’m caught up on your posts now. Some reruns but I think there was some new material also.

  3. Hope the kinfolk was more interesting than the corn growing. Yep…some new material but some repeats.

  4. With Obama’s fuzzy math; less people registered as being unemployed equals less umemployed equates to unemployment dropping. Histrory repeats itself-not if but when will this occur again?

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