The Bonus Army Gets the Boot


The Real Army Shows No Mercy. 

The “Bonus Army” was a demonstration by World War I military veterans in 1932 to demand payments on bonus bonds that they received after the war.  All veterans of The Great War were given an interest earning bond in 1924 that would mature in 1945.

In 1932, the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Many veterans were unemployed and homeless.  Organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars began to lobby for an immediate payout of the bonds to help the veterans survive the economic collapse.  President Hoover flatly refused the demand, stating that he would have to raise taxes to do so, and thereby exacerbate the depression.

Veterans marched on Washington DC to demand payment.  Having no where else to go they set up a shanty town in Anacostia Park.  They began to refer to themselves as the Bonus Expeditionary Force (a play on General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force), or Bonus Army. And it truly was an army.  The protesters numbered an astounding 43,000 people.

The camp was an embarrassment for an already beleaguered Herbert Hoover.  He requested that the DC Metro Police clear the encampment.  On July 28, 1932, DC Police were ordered in to disperse the Bonus Army.  Having a few cops mess with an army of angry veterans turned out to be a bad idea.  The veterans refused to yield and a riot ensued. 

Two veterans were shot and killed by police before the cops retreated and abandoned their ill-advised mission.  Anticipating problems, the United States Army was on standby in the city.  General Douglas MacArthur moved in with the 12th Infantry Regiment and Major George S Patton’s 3rd Calvary Regiment to clear the camp and push the Bonus Army out of Washington. 

MacArthur personally felt that the Bonus Army was a threat to overthrow the government and treated them as such.  He overstepped the direction of the President (as he would do several times in the future, eventually leading to his downfall) to use as little force as necessary.  Tear gas, bayonets, and cavalry charges were used to drive the hapless veterans away.  55 veterans were injured, and a 12-year-old son of a veteran was killed. 

MacArthur’s overly aggressive attack was another nail in the coffin for the doomed Hoover Administration.  He would be defeated in a landslide months later by FDR. 

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