The protest­ing WWI vet­er­ans were des­per­ate. Gen. MacArthur had U.S. troops at­tack them.

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - TER­ENCE MCAR­DLE ter­ence.mcar­dle@wash­

The troops massed on the El­lipse, right out­side the White House: More than 200 sol­diers on horse­back, plus men on foot and five tanks.

On July 28, 1932, at the com­mand of Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur, they marched down Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue to­ward the Capi­tol to launch an at­tack on World War I vet­er­ans.

It was the height of the Great De­pres­sion. Nearly 20,000 un­em­ployed vet­er­ans had con­verged on Wash­ing­ton to de­mand bonus pay­ments from Congress and Pres­i­dent Her­bert Hoover. Led by Walter W. Wa­ters, a for­mer sergeant from Ore­gon, they called them­selves the Bonus Army or Bonus Ex­pe­di­tionary Forces, a nod to World War I’s Amer­i­can Ex­pe­di­tionary Forces.

Many saw the Bonus Army as he­roes.

“They made them­selves into a sym­bol of the De­pres­sion — the sym­bol of the for­got­ten man,” said his­to­rian Lucy Bar­ber, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at the Na­tional Ar­chives. “Their sta­tus as vet­er­ans and pa­tri­ots gave them a much greater claim on the coun­try. With the im­age of all the other peo­ple lin­ing up at the soup kitchens — in some ways, they were con­sid­ered the most de­serv­ing of those peo­ple.”

The for­mer ser­vice­men were scat­tered through­out the city, but two camps stood out — a group squat­ting around build­ings slated for de­mo­li­tion east of the Capi­tol on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue, and a larger en­camp­ment in the Ana­cos­tia Flats, south of the 11th Street Bridge in what is now Ana­cos­tia Park. A ri­val group, the Worker’s ExSer­vice­men League, com­mu­nist vets at odds with Wa­ters’s group, tented at 14th and D streets in South­west Wash­ing­ton.

Hoover re­garded the Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue en­camp­ment as an eye­sore, no dif­fer­ent from the other De­pres­sion shan­ty­towns that his crit­ics dubbed “Hoovervilles.” But there was a pre­text to drive the vet­er­ans out: The aban­doned build­ings were slated to be razed to make way for new con­struc­tion in down­town Wash­ing­ton.

On July 28, Wash­ing­ton Po­lice Chief Pel­ham Glass­ford — who had served as a bri­gadier gen­eral in World War I and do­nated food and lum­ber to the Bonus Army — or­dered Wa­ters to evac­u­ate the Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue camp by 10 a.m. He roped off the area that sur­rounded the build­ings to be de­mol­ished. Wreck­ing cranes parked nearby.

The evicted vet­er­ans be­gan leav­ing qui­etly. Then an an­gry group burst through the ropes. They hurled rocks and bricks, and one hit the po­lice chief in the chest. Soon truck­loads of vet­er­ans streamed across the 11th Street Bridge from the Ana­cos­tia Flats. The chief mo­bi­lized 500 of­fi­cers.

In the melee that fol­lowed, one vet­eran grabbed a po­lice­man’s night­stick. The of­fi­cer, Ge­orge A. Shin­ault, drew his gun and shot and killed two vet­er­ans.

As the am­bu­lances car­ried the fa­tally wounded men away, a St. Louis Post-Dis­patch re­porter told the chief that troops were mass­ing on the El­lipse. Un­be­known to Glass­ford, MacArthur had drawn up a plan to quell do­mes­tic re­bel­lion.

Ac­com­pa­nied by his aide (and fu­ture pres­i­dent) Maj. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, MacArthur had a con­tin­gent of troops at nearby Fort Myer and Fort Wash­ing­ton on alert. At 1:50 p.m., Maj. Ge­orge S. Pat­ton or­dered his cav­al­ry­men to sad­dle up.

Glass­ford rode his mo­tor­cy­cle to the El­lipse and asked MacArthur to give the vet­er­ans more time to dis­perse. For two hours, the vet­er­ans stood their ground.

At 4 p.m., more than 200 sol­diers on horse­back, sabers drawn, de­scended on Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue from 15th Street and headed to­ward the Capi­tol. They jabbed at ev­ery­one in their path, vet­er­ans and by­standers alike.

The in­fantry fol­lowed, don­ning gas masks and lob­bing tear gas. The tanks rolled be­hind the cavalry.

With bru­tal ef­fi­ciency, they cleared the Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue camp, then headed for the com­mu­nist en­camp­ment. Tanks rolled over shacks. Oc­cu­pants set fires, then ran with be­long­ings.

At 9 p.m., MacArthur or­dered his men to march to Ana­cos­tia. Ac­cord­ing to Paul Dick­son and Thomas B. Allen in the book, “The Bonus Army: An Amer­i­can Epic,” the White House sent Gen. Ge­orge Van Horn Mose­ley with a writ­ten mes­sage that the pres­i­dent did not want the Ana­cos­tia camp evac­u­ated. MacArthur ig­nored the mes­sage.

At 11 p.m., tanks blocked ac­cess to the 11th Street Bridge. Then the troops raised the draw­bridge. No one could en­ter or leave.

A Na­tional Guard unit turned a search­light on the pitch-dark camp. As peo­ple pan­icked, the in­fantry­men en­tered and lobbed tear gas. Mov­ing down the rows of huts, the sol­diers lit folded-up news­pa­pers and sys­tem­at­i­cally torched the dwellings.

Hearst colum­nist Bess Fur­man, wit­ness­ing the scene from nearby Hains Point, de­scribed “a blaze so big that it lighted the whole sky . . . a night­mare come to life.”

At mid­night, MacArthur held a news con­fer­ence while the pres­i­dent was in bed and ac­cused the Bonus Army of sub­ver­sion: “They had come to the con­clu­sion that they were go­ing to take over the govern­ment in an ar­bi­trary way or by in­di­rect means.”

The next day’s Wash­ing­ton Post car­ried a ban­ner head­line in cap­i­tal let­ters: ONE SLAIN, 60 HURT AS TROOPS ROUT B.E.F. WITH GAS BOMBS AND FLAMES.

News­reels showed the mil­i­tary with tanks, rout­ing un­armed vet­er­ans. To many, the ac­tion con­firmed a view of Hoover as cold­hearted and de­tached from real­ity. Read­ing a New York Times ac­count, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt told his aide, fu­ture Supreme Court Jus­tice Felix Frank­furter, “Well, Felix, this will elect me.”

Politi­cians had de­bated the bonuses for years. Dur­ing World War I, Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son gave ex­tra pay­ments to civil­ian govern­ment work­ers to help off­set in­fla­tion but of­fered no com­pa­ra­ble pay­ments to the mil­i­tary. In 1924, Congress agreed to what vet­er­ans called “the tomb­stone bonus” be­cause the pay­ments couldn’t be re­deemed un­til 1945.

As pres­i­dent, Roo­sevelt op­posed mak­ing the bonuses im­me­di­ate, ar­gu­ing they would be in­fla­tion­ary. But Congress over­rode his sec­ond veto in 1936, and the bonuses were fi­nally paid.

But for some, it was too lit­tle and too late.

A grand jury ruled that the po­lice acted in self-de­fense in the killing of the two vet­er­ans.

Both men were buried at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. Eric Carl­son, from Oak­land, Calif., had fought in the trenches in France. He died of his in­juries five days af­ter the riot.

Wil­liam Hushka, who lived in Chicago, died at the scene. Hushka, a Lithua­nian im­mi­grant, joined the Army dur­ing World War I and took his oath of cit­i­zen­ship at a Kansas boot camp.

Hushka’s fu­neral took place with full mil­i­tary hon­ors on Aug. 2, five days af­ter the riot. Time mag­a­zine noted with bit­ter irony, “Last week Wil­liam Hushka’s bonus for $528 sud­denly be­came payable in full when a po­lice bul­let drilled him dead.”

Hushka’s brother got the money.


LEFT: Bonus Army mem­bers sleep­ing on the Capi­tol lawn in Wash­ing­ton, July 13, 1932. The un­em­ployed vet­er­ans were seen as he­roes to many. RIGHT: Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur di­rect­ing troops to at­tack the Bonus marchers and evac­u­ate them from the city in July 1932.

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