Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Don’t Look for Help from Walter Reed Scandal

In a posting to the Blue Water Navy discussion group last evening, we wrote:

“…In other words, they [Congress, the VA, and the Administration] have no respect for us whatsoever. Indeed, the only reason Vets are getting any attention at all is because the Walter Reed story hit a liberal newspaper, and the liberal press seized on it as another way to make the Bush Administration look bad. A Dem in the Whitehouse won't make a tinker's damn of a difference either: same mouth, different side.

It will blow over soon, and we will once again return to the Sisyphean task of filing form after form, letter after letter, appeal after appeal, all the while continuing to bury shipmate after shipmate, and to console widow after widow.

Is it time for another Bonus Army? Will Bush send Peter Pace after us with Mounted Cavalry using swords and bayonets on our loved ones in a tent city on the mall, just as Hoover did via MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton in the early 1930s?”

In 1924 Congress authorized the payment of a $1,000 bonus to men who served in WW I. But the payment was deferred until 1945. Even in 1945, $1,000 was a lot of money. Then in the late 1920s and early 1930s, crushing depression struck the United States [indeed, it struck most of the world.], and men went without work. It was a demoralizing blow to a proud workforce that was raised on the old Puritan Work Ethic. Long term unemployment robbed men of their ability to provide for their families, and many took to the rails as transients going to seek work, or Hobos, or just as tramps, basically emasculated by the depth of the economic collapse.

Some of the Veterans thought that Congress should pay them their bonus early to help in this national emergency, and indeed, Congress contemplated it, floated several bills to authorize it, none of which were successful. In early 1932, during the closing days of the disastrous Hoover Administration, about 20,000 Veterans from all over the country marched on Washington, D.C. to apply pressure on Hoover, and Congress to pass the legislation authorizing the early release of the bonus money. Many of the men brought their families along. The legislation was the Patman Bill in the House of Representatives, named for its original sponsor, John William Wright Patman, a WW I veteran himself. The bill passed the house.

The Veterans built a tent city across the Anacostia River from the District, calling it Hooverville. Some actually set up a smaller version right on the Mall in the capital. Others occupied buildings under construction by the Federal government, halting construction.

In mid-June the Patman bill had been defeated in the Senate. Congress then authorized a fund to pay for transportation home, and some Veterans accepted this money and left. Two weeks later there was a confrontation between the D.C. police and remaining Veterans in the construction project. Two Veterans were shot and killed, and several policemen were injured. The Veterans held their ground. The D.C. government informed Hoover [they should have informed Congress as it is Congress, not the President that administers the District of Columbia] it could not control the “Bonus Army” or remove it.

Hoover ordered General in Chief Douglas MacArthur to clear the camps and construction sites of the Veterans, sending them home. MacArthur called on the 12th Infantry Regiment, and the 3rd US Cavalry under command of Major George S. Patton. {Note: Posse Comitatus does not apply to Washington, D. C., as it is Federal territory. Thus, US regular troops could be used against US citizens there.] MacArthur’s aide, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was part of the process, too.

MacArthur attacked with tanks, cavalry and troops, as well as tear gas, and bayonets.
Wikipedia lists the following casualties:
  • Two veterans were shot and killed.
  • An 11 week old baby was in critical condition resulting from shock from gas exposure.
  • Two infants died from gas asphyxiation.
  • An 11 year old boy was partially blinded by tear gas.
  • One bystander was shot in the shoulder.
  • One veteran's ear was severed by a Cavalry saber.
  • One veteran was stabbed in the hip with a bayonet.
  • At least twelve police were injured by the veterans.
  • Over 1,000 men, women, and children were exposed to the tear gas, including police, reporters, residents of Washington D.C., and ambulance drivers.
  • The Veterans were routed, and the camps burned and destroyed.
But this was not the end of the Bonus Army. Just as the camps had been destroyed, so, too, had the Hoover administration. Pitting United States Army troops against Veterans who had fought and won World War I, and doing so in the streets of the nation’s capital, was a killing blow to Hoover, who had opposed the early payment of the bonus by claiming insufficient money to pay it. [Sound familiar?].

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in a landslide in the 1932 elections, and took office the following March. It did not take long before the Veterans were back. Bonus Army II was handled much differently than the first one. FDR was politically adept, unlike the bewildered Hoover who often appeared like a deer caught in the headlights – frozen in his tracks, unable to decide what action, if any, to take. He sent his wife Eleanor to talk to the Veterans, and offer them work. There was a project to extend US Route 1 from the Florida mainland to Key West, and the Federal government was paying for it. It was part of FDR’s New Deal policy to provide jobs for the massive numbers of unemployed, as he felt private business was unable to do so because of the banking failures over the previous five years. FDR did not want to pay the Veterans either, but felt the need to do something. So he sent his wife to have coffee with them, and talk things out.

Hundreds signed up.

Unfortunately, on September 2, 1935, the infamous category 5 Labor Day Hurricane struck the Florida Keys, killing 259 of the Bonus Army Veterans working on the road. The public outcry was overwhelming. A shamed Congress quickly passed legislation authorizing the payment of the Bonus money, and overrode Roosevelt’s veto.

As one of the shipmates on the Blue Water Navy discussion group noted today [about another subject, though apropos here], history does have a habit of repeating itself. Once again, Veterans are dying while the government “backs and fills” to avoid meeting a promise it made years ago to Veterans of Vietnam.

So while the despicable and very real condition at Walter Reed occupy the attention of the nation,
“…It will blow over soon, and we [the Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam] will once again return to the Sisyphean task of filing form after form, letter after letter, appeal after appeal, all the while continuing to bury shipmate after shipmate, and to console widow after widow”

VN Vets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." -- President Abraham Lincoln

"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington

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