In 1932, over 43,000 people marched on Washington, D.C. to advocate the passing of the “Soldier’s Bonus.” The march quickly turned into an angry and violent mob causing the FBI, then known as the United States Bureau of Investigation, to get involved and investigate the entire affair.
The 43,000 marchers called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, but were commonly referred to as the Bonus Army. The Bonus Army began their march on Washington around the end of June, 1932 led by Walter W. Waters.
Waters, a former Army Sergeant, and his Bonus Army not only marched, but literally set-up camp in Washington to demand pensions that were promised to World War I veterans by Congress in a 1924 act.
The Great Depression and the 1924 Act
The 1924 act stated that every serviceman would receive an extra $1.25 per day for service abroad and an extra $1.00 per day for service on US soil. The only caveat to this service bonus was that it would not kick in until 1945.
By, 1932, the country was facing The Great Depression and the veterans, like most people during this time, were unemployed and destitute. They not only wanted that pension, but they needed that bonus pension to survive.
Therefore, a bill went before congress that would allow the bonus pensions to be distributed 13 years earlier than stated in the original 1924 act.
The bill was passed in the House and moved on to the Senate. Word spread and the marchers crowded the capitol grounds, waiting for the Senate decision. A newspaper described the scene as the “tensest day in the capitol since the war.”
Unfortunately, the scene would only get more tense. Waters, himself, came out to announce the Senate decision. The Bill was defeated with a 62 to 18 vote.
The Bonus Army Digs In
Even with the defeat, Waters and his marchers stayed true to their word. They did not leave. They were prepared to “stay the duration.” The Bonus Army lived in their encampment for nearly a month after the Senate decision.
The Attorney General decided that the Bonus Army had squatted on government land long enough. On July 28th, the Attorney General ordered the Washington Police to remove the Bonus Army.
This action was not well received, and many of the Bonus Soldiers resisted attempts to remove them from their encampment. Things turned violent and two marchers were shot by officers of the Washington Police department.
Led by Patton, the government dispatched the calvary, the infantry, and six tanks. With his troops in place, Patton launched tear gas into the crowd and pushed them back with bayonets.
He stormed the marchers camp and burned it to the ground. When the smoke cleared, the local hospital was flooded with casualties – most of which were the Bonus Soldiers. However, among the casualties were also two babies.
The FBI Analysis
After a month of camping on government lands, most of the veterans were malnourished, ill, and unprepared for such a battle. FBI files stated that many of the marchers had criminal records before coming to the Bonus March, but most were just regular citizens.
Furthermore, it was also stated that Waters “ordered defiance” when Patton’s troops came to remove them.
The FBI also thought that members of the Communist party had infiltrated the Bonus Army, not only to stir a riot, but also to try and use the march in their favor. Though Waters never acknowledges any association with communists, he did acknowledge that his Bonus army was more then just a group of protesters.
In Waters’ book, The Bonus Marchers,he alleged that the Bonus Army’s march on Washington was a near coup attempt.
No matter what the reason, the Bonus March is a prime example of how quickly a peaceful protest can turn into a deadly riot.Originally published on TopSecretWriters.com