It sometimes seems that our country’s relationship with its military veterans is a like a roller coaster of highs—the GI Bill—and lows—cuts in funding for health care. As Memorial Day approaches, we remember once again the ultimate sacrifice that many made in service to our country.
The photo below is from the United States Farm Security Administration collection. Taken in 1938, it pictures a veteran selling pencils during the Great Depression. It is impossible to imagine what a typical day meant for him.
It is said that the GI Bill grew from a regrettable episode in American History. When WWI ended in 1918, American veterans of that war were promised a bonus of $45 for their service, around $700 today. When the depression hit and the bonuses weren’t paid, a “Bonus Army” of veteran’s came to Washington in 1932. They formed camps, with plans to stay until the bonuses were paid. Their numbers reached as high as 20,000 at their peak.
Ultimately, Douglas MacArthur, who would achieve everlasting fame and controversy, was assigned to lead a cavalry detachment in removal of the marchers. It was not done peacefully and the images seem to have stirred the conscience of the county. The old photographs of veterans and their families fleeing the tear gas and the sabers of the cavalrymen still cause a shudder.
One can only wonder if the pencil-selling veteran pictured below was one of the marchers evicted.