100 year anniversary of the Adjusted Compensation Act – or the “Bonus”

In 1924, the Adjusted Compensation Act was passed.  So what… Well, some background:

The Bonus March in 1932 transformed how this nation compensates those who serve in the military, and at least six Danburians were active participants in that March.  For all the veteran benefits that the episode helped advance like the GI Bill, one might expect that these Danburians would have been commemorated at some point, but they were not.  In fact,  because of partisan resentments and red-scare superstitions of the time, participation in the 1932 March was not something that was ever promulgated.

Bonus Army Logo – from the BEF News
Frank Nasser’s grave

In the collections of the WestConn Archive was a June 10, 1932, 8 x 10”, black and white ACME Newspictures photograph of Bonus Marchers then known as “Bonuseers” from Danbury with the caption: “Vets from Danbury, Conn., gather around the campfire in front of their shack, it is one of the more luxurious in Bonus City, after spending another day in their siege for payment of the bonus in Washington, D.C.”  It became apparent after looking into the identities of these Danbury vets that their participation in this historic event and contribution had truly been forgotten.

What was the Bonus March, and why did it happen?  As the Great Depression (1929-1941) settled into its third year, Congressman Wright Patman, a Democrat from Texas and a veteran, proposed legislation to immediately pay vets of the First World War a cash bonus that had been legislated in 1924 as the Adjusted Compensation Act.  Its “bonus” was an attempt to redress the fact that vets had been underpaid while in the service.  Unfortunately for vets during the Depression, the 1924 Act had deferred payout of that bonus until 1945, and given the economic situation, a substantial number of veterans needed that money in 1932.  In March 1932, about one thousand members of the VFW came to Washington with hundreds of thousands of signed petitions in support of the Patman Bill, and the effort seemed to be moving the legislation toward wider support.  Notably, Danbury’s representative in Congress, Democrat William Tierney, came out in favor of the Bill.  Seeing the results of this lobbying effort, unemployed and underemployed veterans followed Sergeant Walter Waters and his fellow Oregonian veterans to Washington to push for passage of the Patman Bill.  By late May, the Oregonians had picked up on their way east hundreds of similarly inclined and destitute veterans.  They had hopped trains and hitchhiked the breadth of the country and arrived in Washington, where the City had no apparatus in place to care for this huge influx of homeless persons.  The mass of veteran Bonuseers were called the Bonus Army and the Bonus Expeditionary Forces (BEF) – after the American Expeditionary Forces moniker under which they had served in the War.  The superintendent of the Washington D.C. Police Department, veteran Pelham Glassford, found the Bonuseers places to encamp around the City, but primarily at an area called the Anacostia Flats, across the Anacostia River, south of the Capitol.  The area was large, and the river was an effective mote between the encampment and Washington.  Anacostia was home to a predominantly Black population. 

Harry Brink’s grave

It is safe to assume that Danbury’s known Bonuseers – William Hampson, Martin La Cava, Harry Brink, Anthony Saniuk, Frank Nasser and Michael Omer – thought their journey to join the thousands assembled in Washington on June 8, 1932 would be successful in securing quicker if not immediate payment of the Bonus, given the reverence shown to veterans in their lifetimes. Additionally, they had a compelling need for that cash because there was no social safety net in place in those days before the New Deal.  These vets, and in particular those from Danbury, were not likely without flaws but neither were they communists or “shiftless bums,” as they were called by folks such as columnist Westbrook Pegler in 1948.  Prominent voices like Pegler’s perpetuated a negative profile of the Bonuseer perhaps to soften criticism of Hoover, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton for their repugnant action in attacking the BEF on July 28, 1932 that left 2 Bonuseers dead and dozens wounded. 

Of Danbury’s one-thousand World War vets, Danbury’s Bonuseers represented a tiny fraction. They had braved the privations and tribulations of the encampment in Washington to ultimately succeed in securing the Bonus in 1936, not just for themselves, but for all the First World War vets, and not to mention inspiring the GI Bill and a stronger Veterans Administration.  However, that small group also had little notion when they climbed  into a truck on West Street to join the BEF of the chain of events that would unravel in the next four years as a result of the Bonus demonstration.  Though undocumented by the News-Times, they likely celebrated even more than other vets in June 1936 when the Bonus was finally paid.

Anthony Saniuk’s grave
William Hampson’s grave

On Memorial Day, we placed Bonus Army flags on the Danbury Bonuseers’ graves in Wooster Cemetery.

See the Memorial Day article by Kendra Baker: https://www.newstimes.com/news/article/danbury-wwi-veterans-bonus-march-wooster-memorial-19464105.php