Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 23, 2013

The post-war trials of WWI vets

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — It is appropriate to remember that the United States entered World War I 96 years ago this month, that the Civil War began 152 years ago this month, and that the Desert Storm Cease Fire was this month in 1991.

From this week until into June (except May 8) this column will be solely about veterans or to those who’ve helped veterans.

Some time ago June and John Tumility shared a little handbook that June’s father, Emmett Taylor, received from the Army when leaving the service after World War I. Taylor was in France during the war.

The title of the book, “Where Do We Go From Here,” and on back are these words, “This is the real dope.” The small booklet included this message, “A war service medal, to be known as the Victory Medal, will be awarded to all officers and enlisted men who served on active duty in the Army of the United States at any time between April 6, 1917 and Nov. 11, 1918 and whose service was honorable.”

The following wasn’t in the booklet, but it’s interesting to note that six years later Congress passed a bill giving World War I veterans a cash bonus; however, they couldn’t collect it until 1945. Veterans up to the rank of major with at least 60 days in service would receive a dollar a day for service in the United States up to $500 and $1.25 for each day overseas up to $625. Each veteran received a bond in 1924 (in place of cash) which would accumulate interest making the average payment about $1,000 for each veteran in 1945.

That was acceptable to most veterans at the time because times were good. When the Great Depression hit America, their attitude changed. Most were out of work and had families to feed. In 1932 about 15,000 veterans organized a march on Washington (calling themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force) in an effort to force Congress to pay their bonus immediately.

They had few resources but set up make-do camps in the city using scrap wood, and loose materials they found. They waited, confident that when Congress learned how desperate they were they would give the bonuses to them. The Senate, however, voted against a bill that had passed the House.

Most of the men had no way of getting home, so they stayed in their make-do camps even though Congress had adjourned for the summer. Apparently tired of the whole ugly episode, President Hoover gave orders to the Army to remove the veterans using whatever force needed. Tanks and cavalry under the command of Chief of Staff of the Army Douglas MacArthur drove the camps and set fire to the makeshift houses. Many World War I veterans never again respected MacArthur.

The following warning was included in the booklet: Hun Cooties - “Soldiers and sailors discharged can make $10 a day. Apply Hotel...............Room 15.” That’s a sample of advertisements appearing in the Help Wanted columns in most any big city. Don’t let any Bud or Gob you know fall for that sort of stuff. (The idea is to exploit the uniform, to get hold of some fellow who, for the moment, may be down on his luck, and send him out panhandling the public with the kit of a street fakir. The Hun Cooties who think up these things wouldn’t give a man in Cits a drink of water. Interesting although I’ve no idea what a “Hun Cootie,” “Bud,” “Gob” or “Cits” meant in those days.

There was another warning in the booklet for veterans who had attended college before their World War I days. “Don’t let a Gypsy heel, or the smell of woof fires, or the call of a winding road lead you astray. Get back to college. “After the Civil War and even after the fracas of ’98 there were ever so many who thought it was too late to go back. Talk to them about it. They’ll tell you it was the mistake of their lives.”

The booklet was written by William Brown Meloney who served in the United States Army in France. He was gassed during the Meuse-Argonne offensive and it was after returning to the United States in 1919 that he wrote the handbook for soldiers. The War Department published five million copies of the handbook. Many of the men that were gassed during that war died young and Meloney was no exception. He died in 1925 only seven years after the war.

It’s been a long time since World War I and those that served are all dead; but all who served in that war deserved to be remembered, always.