Most Americans know Veterans
Day is the
day of the year we set aside to attend picnics and parades as
a way of honoring the veterans who
have answered the call to military service for our country.
Fewer Americans are aware of the history behind it, and that it all
started at the Anacostia Flats – which is part of what is known today
as Joint Base Anacostia – Bolling (JBAB).
In 1924, Congress
passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act which entitled World
War I veterans to receive $1.25 for
every day they served overseas during
the war. Many of the veterans were
awarded those bonuses in the form of certificates that would earn
compound interest, but were only redeemable after 1945.
seemed logical to Congress in the 1920s to make such a promise
because of the booming economy during the “roaring 20s.” However, in
1932, America was quickly plunging into the Great Depression, and
unemployment was running high among the
An estimated 43,000 marchers came to
Washington, D.C. to demand payment for their bonuses earlier than
1945. The men brought their families and whatever they could carry
with them and set up camp on the southern banks of the Anacostia
River. Within a short period of time, their encampment became
shanty town known as Hooverville - named after President Herbert
The organizers of the movement named the group the
“Bonus Army,” to reflect the American Expeditionary Force that
fought in World War I, known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force.
Led by former Army Sgt. Walter W. Waters, the Bonus Army marched
on Washington to have their demands for immediate payment heard.
Almost immediately after the camps were established, Attorney Gen.
William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans
to be removed from all government property.
dispatched to enforce the eviction but were met with resistance from
the veterans. Police fired into the
crowd killing two of the veterans.
President Hoover then ordered the Army to take command of the
eviction and clear out all of the veterans.
Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, led the infantry with
fixed bayonets, cavalry and tanks, driving the camp dwellers from
their shelters while also burning all of the possessions brought by
the veterans and their families.
Upon hearing of the overuse of force, President Hoover ordered
the operation to be stopped. MacArthur, however, continued the
assault, stating he believed the veterans
were attempting to overthrow the U.S. Government. Supporting
MacArthur during the incident was his general's aide, Army Maj.
Dwight D. Eisenhower and Army Maj. George Patton. Scores of
veterans and family members were
injured during the incident and more than one hundred arrested. That
moment has gone down in American history as the lowest point in our
In 1938, as a way to unofficially make
amends with the veterans, Congress
passed an Act known as Armistice Day,
that would be celebrated Nov. 11 every year, to recognize the
Armistice signed on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh
day of the eleventh month” officially
ending “the war to end all wars.”
Congress intended to
replace the word “Armistice” with “Veteran,” but the hostilities of
the time, which ultimately led to the outbreak of World War II,
delayed the change. It wasn't until 1954, that President Dwight D.
Eisenhower officially recognized the
veterans' sacrifices by signing HR7786, changing Armistice
that signing, Veterans
Day has been celebrated across the
country, and it all started right here on the premier grounds of,
now, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, nearly 80 years ago.
By Eric Ritter
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling
Author's note: The Ghosts of DC
organization and the Library of Congress contributed information to
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