Millions of young men and women dedicated some of their prime years to serving in the US military. The problem faced with many of them was that military pay was low and most of those that served didn’t have a usable skill to help them get a job. After World War I, this problem became all to apparent.
In 1924, Congress passed the World War Adjustment Act also known as the Bonus Act of 1924 that promised to compensate those that served in the military with a bonus pay based upon the number of days of active duty they served. It sounded nice except for one small provision that stated that they had to wait 20 years to receive their bonus.
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In 1929, just five years after the passage of the Bonus Act, the nation sunk into the Great Depression. It didn’t take long for unemployment to hit well over 25% of the nation’s working force. Many businesses and factories shut down. Homes and farms were foreclosed. To make matter worse, much of the nation’s heartland was hit with several years of severe drought. What farms survived the early stages of the Great Depression were soon dried up and the rich topsoil blown away in the winds the ravaged the land.
In 1932, over 20,000 World War I veterans marched on Washington DC demanding their bonus pay now. Groups like the American Legion were heavily involved with organizing the protests. When it became apparent that the veterans were not going to receive their bonus pay, many went home discouraged, but a number of them continue to protest. Eventually, some of the protests became heated and the government turned to active military to help squelch the protesting veterans.
In 1939, American was starting to recover from the Great Depression and rains eventually moved back into America’s farmlands, but the loss of valuable rich topsoil would continue to take its toll.
On December, 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America found itself in the second World War. Millions of young men and women found themselves in the nation’s military. Congress knew they had to do something to help those who served assimilate back into civilian life as they left the military and the formation of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act began.
However, the debate on what benefits to give them was heated and on more than one occasion it appeared that the differences would prevent Congress from doing anything. Both sides pretty much came to an agreement on providing educational and home loan benefits to veterans, but they could not agree on whether to provide unemployment benefits. A number of congressmen believed that such a benefit could lead to another depression.
On June 12, 1944, the Senate narrowly voted to approve the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act.
On June 13, 1944, the House found themselves in a stalemate until Rep. John Gibson (D-KY) was called in to cast the tie breaking vote, allowing the bill to move on to the desk of President Franklin d. Roosevelt.
On this day, June 22, 1944, with a lot of media coverage and fan fair, Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, also known as the GI Bill, into law.
Few people realize that the original GI Bill of 1944 changed the entire economic, financial and social landscape of America. Before World War II, college was relegated as a privilege for the wealthy. Within three years of passage of the GI Bill, nearly 49% of college admissions were veterans using their GI Bill benefits and college no longer was the four-year playground for the children of the wealthy. By 1956, when the original GI Bill ended, 7.8 million of the 16 million veterans had attended college or trade school. This in turn changed the face of the job market from what it was prior to the war.
Prior to World War II, it was difficult for young couples to buy a house and get their families started. With the GI Bill home loan benefit, 2.4 million veterans purchased homes from 1944 to 1952.
The combination of better educated veterans and more of them owning their own homes, America was changed for the better. The middle class suddenly found themselves moving upward into the aspects of American life once out of their grasp. Many Baby Boomers, such as myself, were raised in better conditions because of the GI Bill benefits given to our parent. My dad grew up poor and virtually destitute but after serving 6 years in the US Navy, before, during and after WWII, he was able to purchase a home in a nice neighborhood and obtain a job that provided for our family.
Sources for the above includes: History and Timeline; FDR signs G.I. Bill; G.I. Bill; GI Bill History; Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (1944); The history of the GI Bill; Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (G.I. Bill); The G. I. Bill of Rights: An Analysis of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.