The Bonus Army consisted of a group of around 43,000 people, among which 17,000 WW1 veterans with their families who gathered during the spring and summer of 1932 in Washington D.C. They called themselves the “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” set up camps around the city and waited for Congress to decide on whether or not they were going to pay out their promised war bonuses immediately.
The Issue With The Bonuses
In 1924, Congress members were very grateful to their World War 1 veterans and voted to pay them a bonus tied to the amount of days they served the country. The catch was that the bonuses would only be paid in 1945, an arrangement which the soldiers were happy with… until the Great Depression struck. Destitute, out of work and with families to feed, the veterans, lead by Walter W. Waters, marched the city to try and force Congress to help them out financially.
Although the bill to pay out the bonuses immediately was passed by the House, the Senate voted against it. The marchers were devastated and as many of them had nowhere to go, they remained in their makeshift camps despite the fact that Congress had adjourned for summer. Attorney General Mitchell finally ordered that the veterans had to be evacuated, and after some failed attempts by the police, General Douglas MacArthur and his cavalry and tanks stormed the camps. The veterans were driven out and their tents and belongings set on fire.
Although the march of the Bonus army was not very successful, the veterans were paid out earlier than what was initially agreed upon. Congress passed the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act in 1936, paying over $2 billion to veterans of WW1.
This article is part of our extensive collection of articles on the Great War. Click here to see our comprehensive article on World War 1.