Welcome toReader Rant Round Table for June 22 - 28, 2014On June 22, 1944, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the United States was signed into law: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (P.L. 78-346, 58 Stat. 284m), known informally as the G.I. Bill
. It was the last piece of legislation of FDR's "New Deal" and one of its most enduring legacies - it shaped the face of the nation as no other piece of legislation has before or since.
The GI bill was the result of one of the most painful lessons of WWI. After that conflict, veterans were demobilized with a thank you and $60. The Wilson administration had boosted the pay of civilian employees to adjust for inflation, but had not done so for the military. An effort was made to compensate servicemen, but by then Warren G. Harding was President, and he strongly opposed these efforts. Indeed, his position will sound familiar to many today. Initially his position was to "support the measure if it were coupled with a revenue measure" eventually opposing it unless it were a "future pension" plan. He was so opposed, in fact, that he appeared before the Senate to testify against it in 1921, and then vetoed the measure when it reached his desk in 1922. To say that his veto was unpopular would be a gross understatement. After Calvin Coolidge's election a new provision was negotiated (as Coolidge, too, refused to pay veterans anything in "cash"). On May 15, 1924, President Coolidge, too, vetoed a bill granting bonuses to veterans of World War I saying: "patriotism...bought and paid for is not patriotism." Wikepedia
A very frustrated Congress finally overrode this veto, something that even his Republican colleagues couldn't stomach.
But the "World War Adjusted Compensation Act" didn't provide any current compensation, only an "adjusted service certificate," a promise of future payment - but not until 1945. With the Depression and widespread unemployment, this slight of veterans was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, and the result was - a march on Washington! The famous "Bonus Army"
Wikipedia - "Bonus Army"
was the popular name of an assemblage of some 43,000 marchers—17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932 to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Its organizers called it the Bonus Expeditionary Force to echo the name of World War I's American Expeditionary Forces, while the media called it the Bonus March. It was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant.
Having lived through the Bonus Army march, having responsibility for millions of servicemembers who had served during a second grueling "World War" and having a predisposition to help his fellow Americans, FDR promoted a realistic compensation effort to support those who had served. Yet it still almost didn't come to pass. History and Timeline - VA
Some shunned the idea of paying unemployed Veterans $20 a week because they thought it diminished their incentive to look for work. Others questioned the concept of sending battle-hardened Veterans to colleges and universities, a privilege then reserved for the rich.
The final version that Roosevelt signed into law contained three major provisions: unemployment compensation, VA home loan guarantees, and tuition reimbursement. Ironically, the unemployment compensation provision - the issue most bitterly fought in Congress - was the least exercised provision. Less than 20 percent of funds set aside for this were ever used.
The other two provisions, however, were lustily embraced by returning veterans (my father amongst them). In the peak year of 1947, Veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions
. By the time the original GI Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II Veterans had participated in an education or training program. From 1944 to 1952, VA backed nearly 2.4 million home loans
for World War II Veterans.
The impact of these twin benefits profoundly changed the cultural landscape of the nation.
By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation's college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.
As educational institutions opened their doors to this diverse new group of students, overcrowded classrooms and residences prompted widespread improvement and expansion of university facilities and teaching staffs. An array of new vocational courses were developed across the country, including advanced training in education, agriculture, commerce, mining and fishing--skills that had previously been taught only informally.
Many famous Americans from Johnny Carson to Bob Dole to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist Gene Hackman and Harry Bellefonte were GI Bill-educated. The entire NASA program was made possible because of the thousands of Engineers who were educated under the GI Bill. The GI Bill provided the education for 14 Nobel Prize winners, three Supreme Court justices, three presidents, a dozen senators, two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. How the GI Bill changed the economy
The United States became one of the best educated workforces in history, and the economy showed it.
A second major impact was the housing boom that was inspired by those millions of GI bill backed loans. The landscape of America was literally transformed. Levittowns and suburbs grew exponentially, necessitating the creation of the Interstate Highway system and the automobiles to get from these new houses to workplaces, refrigerators, stoves, air conditioners and toys to fill them.
And, all of this prosperity led to the Baby Boom
, including yours truly.