The Bonus Army

 

Few images from the Great Depression are more indelible than the rout of the Bonus Marchers. At the time, the sight of the federal government turning on its own citizens -- veterans, no less -- raised doubts about the fate of the republic. It still has the power to shock decades later.

From the start, 1932 promised to be a difficult year for the country, as the Depression deepened and frustrations mounted. In December of 1931, there was a small, communist-led hunger march on Washington; a few weeks later, a Pittsburgh priest led an army of 12,000 jobless men there to agitate for unemployment legislation. In March, a riot at Ford's River Rouge plant in Michigan left four dead and over fifty wounded. Thus, when a band of jobless veterans, led by a former cannery worker named Walter W. Walters, began arriving in the capital in May, tensions were high. Calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces," they demanded early payment of a bonus Congress had promised them for their service in World War I.


Source: The American Experience/PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/macarthur/peopleevents/pandeAMEX89.html