The Middle Class Rose, as Did Expectations
Today, the bill continues to be one of the main drawing points recruiters use to entice people into joining the military.
"The GI Bill was one of the most revolutionary pieces of legislation in American history," said Robert Maddox, professor emeritus at Penn State University. "It gave millions of young men and women a chance to obtain an education that would have been unthinkable without it." It also provided veterans with home loans guaranteed by the federal government. Burgeoning home ownership ensued, as did the baby boom and the spread of Levittown-type developments. Suburbia had begun its sprawl.
The war also crept into the corners of society in many more nuanced and less-heralded ways that still reverberate through American life and culture.
Wonder Woman and Captain America started their comic book careers by defeating the Nazis in issue after issue. When the Army decided it needed a durable all-terrain vehicle, jeeps were created. And M&Ms, introduced in 1941, became popular with soldiers who found that the hard-shell candies didn't melt easily and could be taken almost anywhere.
Scientists and entrepreneurs developed inventions as sophisticated as radar and as simple as duct tape, which was used to keep water out of ammunition cases. Dispirited that so many military recruits had nutritional deficiencies, President Harry S. Truman in 1946 signed the National School Lunch Act, which has allowed millions of schoolchildren to get free meals. Like the GI Bill, it endures today.
American workers also have the war to thank for having their federal taxes withheld from each paycheck. Previously, taxpayers simply sent the Internal Revenue Service a lump-sum check at the end of the year. But with a costly war brewing, the federal government needed revenue quickly, and so it started the process of withholding taxes all through the year.
By the early 1950s, a new prosperity had set in. Many Americans had become accustomed to televisions and automobiles and came to expect a certain standard of living that would have been unfathomable a decade before, when war was on the horizon.
"With the rising expectations," Goodheart said, "there was no turning back."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Servicemen returned to new opportunities thanks to the GI Bill, which was dubbed the "Magic Carpet to the Middle Class."
World War II Remembered: Recalling a distant, indelible time.
Panoramic Photo: Washington's newest landmark opens.
Video: Workers put on the final touches.
Photo Gallery: A complex story told with straightforward conviction.
WWII Reunion: Jim Deutsch, program curator for this weekend's program will be online at 11:30 ET, to discuss Memorial Day ceremonies.
Dedication: Betsy Glick, director of communications for the National World War II Memorial, will be online at 3 ET, to discuss the four-day dedication celebration.
Panorama: Design Details
Memorial Map and Layout
_____From The Post_____
Memory Illuminated (The Washington Post, May 28, 2004)
A 17-Year Campaign For a Lasting Tribute (The Washington Post, May 28, 2004)
Travel Expected to Rise As People's Fears Ease (The Washington Post, May 28, 2004)
Celebrations, Salutes, Festivals and More (The Washington Post, May 28, 2004)
A Vision Drawn From Democracy (The Washington Post, May 28, 2004)
WWII Memorial Report