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Laurel’s Forgotten Role in the Bonus Army

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By Kevin Leonard 

I spend a lot of time doing historical research for clients at the National Archives. Sometimes I use students as research assistants, including my sons. That was the situation early in 2014, when my son Jeff was helping me with a project that had no connection to my History Matters column.

Jeff found a reference to Laurel in an index of Universal newsreels that date back to the 1920s. The reference concerned the Bonus Army of 1932. Coincidentally, I had recently read the excellent book “The Bonus Army” by Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen, so I was well acquainted with the topic but amazed that Laurel had played a role. Laurel was not mentioned in the book.

The shameful story began in 1924 when World War I veterans were promised a service bonus, most of which were to be paid 21 years later in 1945! Once the Great Depression hit, thousands of destitute and homeless veterans marched on Washington to demand the promised bonus for their service to the country. President Herbert Hoover, aided by J. Edgar Hoover, smeared the veterans’ cause by claiming it was organized by Communists.

When that classy (and untrue) move didn’t deter the veterans, President Hoover then called out the military, led by Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur and then-Major George Patton. The unarmed U.S. Army veterans were pushed by horses, bayonets, and tear gas back on Pennsylvania Ave over the 11th St. Bridge to their cardboard and ramshackle dwellings, which were burned to the ground under MacArthur’s orders.

Most of the veterans went home after that, but many wanted to stay and push for the cause. A woman from Catonsville offered them her land near Laurel to establish a permanent camp. The story reveals what happened next.

The article appeared in the Laurel Leader on March 13, 2014.

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This article is a follow-up to a 2014 "History Matters" column Kevin wrote for the Laurel Leader. You can read that original column by clicking on the image above. BALTIMORE SUN

This video, from a 1932 Universal newsreel, shows veterans leaving Washington, DC and arriving at the Laurel camp, which was still being organized.

SOURCE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION

This video, also from a Universal newsreel, has footage of MacArthur’s troops and Patton’s tanks pushing the veterans down Pennsylvania Ave. It also shows the U.S. Army using tear gas on the unarmed WWI veterans, and their camp being burned down under MacArthur’s orders.

SOURCE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION

This video has more footage of the Bonus Army in Washington and then the veterans fleeing the tear gas fired by the military.

SOURCE: NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION