V.p. 1932. In 1924, a grateful Congress voted to give a bonus to WWI veterans, ranging from $1.00 for each day served in the U.S. to $1.25 for each day served overseas. The catch was that payment would not be made until 1945. By 1932, the nation was in the throes of the Depression, and the unemployed veterans wanted their compensation immediately. In May of that year, nearly 15,000 veterans, many unemployed, destitute, and hungry, descended on Washington, DC, to demand immediate payment of their bonuses. Led by a man named Walter Waters, the veterans called themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Force" (B.E.F.); the media, largely sympathetic to their plight, dubbed them "The Bonus Army."
At its height, approximately 17,000 veterans and their families lived in shanty towns around Washington. They built camps and roads, dug latrines, and nearly 43,000 people lived in a well-ordered mini-society. The largest of these camps was at Anacostia Flats, across the river from the Capitol, where a significant portion of the veterans, women, and children lived in shelters built from whatever scrap materials could be scavenged. As the B.E.F. settled in, they began lobbying Congress and organizing marches by day and by night; in the interim, the government became paranoid about radical elements and armed revolt--indeed, the newsprint snipe on verso of one photographs erroneously describes the B.E.F. as "communist," despite the fact that only three of the twenty-six leaders were card-carrying members of the CPUSA. According to journalist and eyewitness Joseph C. Harsch, "This was not a revolutionary situation. This was a bunch of people in great distress wanting help...These were simply veterans from World War I who were out of luck, out of money, and wanted to get their bonus--and they needed the money at that moment."
The BEF's hopes rose in June when the House passed a bill allowing for early payment of the bonuses; their hopes were crushed when the Senate defeated the bill, and the marchers refused to leave. For the most part, they were peaceful and orderly, but many government officials saw them as a threat, especially when their leader, Waters, was close to openly supporting fascism. One July 28, 1932, Attorney General Mitchell ordered police to remove the marchers and things quickly deteriorated. Two veterans were shot, both later succombing to their wounds. President Hoover ordered the army to evict the marchers, so General Douglas MacArthur, with an infantry and cavalry regiment supported by six battle tanks commanded by Major George S. Patton, massed on Pennsylvania Avenue. The infantry evicted the veterans and their families, advancing upon them with fixed bayonets and tear gas. The marchers fled to their largest camp, Camp Anacostia, and while Hoover ordered the assault stopped, MacArthur ignored his directive and attacked anyway. Though it remains unclear which side was the perpetrator, the camp was set afire during the assault; the end result left 55 veterans seriously injured, one man's spouse suffered a miscarriage, and a 12-week old child died from exposure to tear-gas. Dwight Eisenhower later wrote, "the whole scene was pitiful. The veterans were ragged, ill-fed, and felt themselves badly abused. To suddenly see the whole encampment going up in flames just added to the pity."
The five present photographs were taken after the events described above, at the depleted Bonus Army's "Camp McCloskey" (named after the mayor) in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, August 2-5, 1932, during a heat wave, one of the images showing men cooling off and bathing in a creek near their camp. Of the photographs in this collection, at least one made it into print, the shot showing the camp in its entirety, on the day members learned that Bonus Army member Eric Carlson had died of his wounds inflicted when the B.E.F. was ejected from Washington a few days earlier. Additional photographs show member Mike Matich, being taken away on a stretcher after collapsing from heat stroke; another shows Johnstown mayor McCloskey looking on as another member is escorted from his tent when a typhoid outbreak threatened the camp. McCloskey eventually succeeded in ordering the men out of town, offering free gas or train fare and money for food. Five original press photographs (all approx. 17.5x23cm. or the inverse); typescript snipe or newsclippings mounted to all but one verso; some cockling from exposure to damp, snipe toned, else a Very Good collection. One image has been touched up for publication, with Johnstown Mayor McCloskey, mid-speech, cirlced in black, an arrow pointing to a nurse clad in white behind him. Photographs stamped on verso by Acme Photo, Cleveland; Acme Newspictures, New York; and the Associated Press. With ten photographic postcards (9 real photo, one collotype) of Bonus Army encampments and activities in Washington, including several with "Official B.E.F. Photo" slug in image.