The news media called it a ‘Bonus Army’–the assemblage of some 43,000 marchers including 17,000 World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups, who protested in Washington, D.C., in spring and summer of 1932. They demanded their bonus cash-payment redemption of their service certificates granted to them eight years earlier via the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. These bonds had the maturity of twenty years, and could not be redeemed until 1945. However, the coming of the Great Depression destroyed the economy, leaving many veterans jobless.
The march, which set the precedent for the political demonstrations and activism that took place in the U.S. since, was nonetheless brutally suppressed by U.S. Army troops under Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton. Though probably all were legitimate veterans, MacArthur was convinced that at least 90% of them were fakes. And he refused even to read the President’s direct orders that he not use force. This brutality disgraced Herbert Hoover and contributed to him losing the presidency. However, his successor Franklin D. Roosevelt still refused to redeem their certificates and offered them work in building highways. In 1936 Congress overrode Roosevelt’s veto to allow the veterans to redeem their certificates early. The Bonus Army’s greatest legacy was the G. I. Bill of July, 1944, which helped veterans from the Second World War secure needed assistance from the federal government to help them fit back into civilian life, something the World War I veterans of the Bonus Army had not received.
With the advent of photojournalism in the 30s, the march of Bonus Army was well documented especially by veteran Army Signal Corps photographer Theodor Horydczak who chronicled their camp site on the Mall. The most iconic photo of the event (above) was taken on July 28th 1932, the day when the forceful police evacuation of the marchers began. It was taken by Joe Costa of the N.Y. Daily News as one of the patrolmen was taking the flag out of the hands of the marchers. The ultimate amalgamation of defiance, tension and struggle, the picture was one of many Costa took as bricks flew all around him and even hit him.