Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
It was 1932, deep into the Great Depression, and thousands of World War I veterans came to Washington to plead with Congress for payment of a bonus owed them for war service. For weeks, about 12,000 protesters kept a vigil at the Capitol, but the Senate failed to vote them the money. Rather than go back home, they settled into camps around the city. Eventually, President Herbert Hoover ordered the army to drive the veterans from the capital. An excerpt from The Post of July 29, 1932:
By Daniel B. Maher
Tear gas bombs and torches, unleashed by Federal troops in a sweeping offensive, routed the ragged bonus army yesterday from every major encampment in the Capital in a day of wild disorder that took the life of one veteran.
In a relentless drive, infantrymen, cavalrymen and tanks opened the drive against the veterans on Pennsylvania avenue, herded them from the Southwest section and stopped their offensive at Camp Marks, the largest of the bonus army encampments.
In front of Camp Marks, Chief of Staff Douglas A. MacArthur, on orders from a high authority, ordered cessation of the drive, but it was needless, for the 5,000 veterans in the camp were in full retreat. They set fire to their rude shacks and early today the flames were burning a memorial across the sky in what may be the epitaph of the bonus army.
Though peace again reigned, the hospitals held the more than 60 suffering victims of the series of clashes that forced the District Commissioners to send a plea for aid to President Hoover, with the consequent call by the Chief Executive for the War Department to put an end to the "rioting and defiance of civil authority."
Though the straggling veterans left their big camp in Anacostia, their attempts to reenter the city proper met with failure. Brig. Gen. Perry L. Miles, in command of the troops before Camp Marks, issued orders that no bonus members would be permitted to cross the bridge into the city.
Tanks and cavalry blocked the Eleventh street and Pennsylvania avenue bridges. Their only road of further egress was toward Baltimore and Annapolis. Police guarded the Benning Bridge.
Dropping tear gas bombs to the right of them and to the left of them, the infantrymen had routed the veterans from every camp in the Western section of the city, and the desolation was completed by soldiers who laid waste the encampment with torches.
Toward midnight the cavalrymen and foot soldiers were in possession of all encampments in the city, with the exception of Camp Bartlett in Anacostia, which is privately owned, and to which the veterans were flocking for shelter.
As in their tactics against the other camps, the soldiers at Anacostia laid down a heavy barrage of tear gas as the veterans fled for cover. Women and children had been removed from the camp an hour before.
Early today Camp Marks was shorn of all the huts that had been the homes of the veterans for the last two months. Only soldiers were in possession of the camp ...
The troops reached the Anacostia camp shortly after 10 o'clock. As they reached the Anacostia end of the bridge the crowd impeded their way; the troops hurled tear gas bombs.
Cheers and boos from the thousands of onlookers greeted their arrival. Women and children ran back screaming. They turned into the parkway, with the cavalry in their wake. In a few minutes the torches were touched to several shacks near the entrance to the camp ...
Commander Edward Atwell, head of the camp, who had earlier urged his men to dig up their guns and fight, capitulated: "Give way, boys, give way, they've got the tanks and you haven't got a chance in hell."
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