WWI vets got the short end of the stick in the Great Depression. This was their answer.

Veterans risk their lives in the name of their country. But they often end up vulnerable when they return home.

On some occasions throughout our history, treatment of veterans has gotten so bad that it has led to major political change.

That's what happened on July 28, 1932, in Washington, D.C., when a confrontation between homeless vets and U.S. military personnel so outraged the public that it swayed a presidential election and had major repercussions.


The aftermath of the military action against the vets and their families is eerie at the Anacostia Flats with the Washington Monument in the background. Image via "Bonus Army"/PBS.

President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, was faced with an unsightly controversy: Thousands of destitute veterans had been camped out in the capital, forming one of several "Hooverville" encampments around the country. Hoover ordered the nation's military to march on the veterans, torch their makeshift homes, and run them out of town.

His opponent in the coming election, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, knew the move would incense the public. Upon hearing the news, he is said to have remarked, "Well, this will elect me."

The clash was one of the darkest chapters in the history of American veterans and still resonates today.

The unrest began when veterans demanded their lost wages be paid sooner than Congress wanted to.

When veterans of World War I returned home in the early 1920s, they petitioned Congress to offer some sort of compensation for lost wages; military pay was far below what they could have earned at home in the factories. Congress passed a law to compensate them, but the certificates issued to the veterans were not payable until 1945.

Meanwhile, in 1932, the Great Depression was in full swing, and those veterans became part of the destitute masses who had no money, no food, no jobs, and, in some cases, no homes.

Veterans eventually took to the streets. Here's a flier for the march. Image via Library of Congress.

Unemployment nationwide reached nearly 24% that year, so prospects were dim for everyone.

Feeling like they'd been rather chewed up and spit out by their country after doing what they felt was their duty, 15,000 to 20,000 veterans made their way to Washington to set up camp and make their case. They were known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force, later shortened to the Bonus Army.

They occupied abandoned structures along Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House and set up camp in nearby parks and the Anacostia Flats, a swampland east of the Capitol that had been converted into a park in the early 1900s. Those areas swam with tent cities and even some shacks erected from nearby scrap piles. Such encampments were known as "shantytowns" or "Hoovervilles" after the president who would not meet with them, talk to them, nor hear their stories.

These makeshift homes were filled with veterans from The Great War, both black and white, along with their families.

One of the shantytowns in the Anacostia Flats in 1932. Image via Library of Congress.

Protesters in Hooverville camps wanted to convince the public to support their cause.

Conditions of the camps were as shipshape as they could muster, and the veterans were highly disciplined, with their own post office, library, and newspaper. It was thought that if they did not keep things clean and organized, the public might go against them.

Another view of Hooverville shantytowns in the Anacostia Flats. Image via Library of Congress.

In fact, there was a risk of this; the infamous tactic of the Red Scare was used against them by Hoover and his military commanders. Basically, they were called Communists and agitators. It was to no avail, however; these tens of thousands of citizens remained within a stone's throw of the White House — sometimes on the lawn itself — and they continued pushing for relief.

"I never saw such fine Americanism as is exhibited by you people. You have just as much right to have a lobby here as any steel corporation. Makes me so damn mad, a whole lot of people speak of you as tramps. By God, they didn't speak of you as tramps in 1917 and '18." — Retired Marine Corps Gen. Smedley Butler, speaking to the veterans.


On June 15, 1932, with pressure mounting, the House of Representatives passed the Patman Bonus Bill, which would have taken care of the bonus payments in cash immediately. But in what sounds like something out of today's headlines of partisan politics, the Senate shot it down two days later, by a vote of 62-18.

More veterans head to Washington via rail car. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Thousands of veterans headed to Washington in response to the defeat of the legislation to compensate them.

Initially, the local police were cooperative and even sympathetic; their chief, Pelham Glassford, had been a World War I veteran himself.

The Bonus Army camps out on the Capitol lawn, July 1932. Image via Library of Congress.

But by the end of July, some of the officialdom in D.C. had grown weary of these veterans. On July 28, Secretary of War Patrick Hurley ordered police to evacuate the buildings that the veterans occupied. In the skirmish that ensued, two veterans were killed.

The police begin their "removal" of the veterans. Image via National Archives.

Hoover then made the fateful order: The Army would rout them from the city entirely.

It was none other than Gen. Douglas MacArthur, with the help of Maj. Dwight Eisenhower, that removed the 1932 Bonus Army from the city, with an assist from Maj. George Patton, who was in charge of the cavalry brigade that headed the action.

They first cleared the abandoned buildings, then MacArthur made a decision to follow the veterans into the Anacostia Flats.

Hoover, sensing the political catastrophe this entire episode might create, twice sent word to MacArthur not to cross the 11th Street Bridge that led to the flats.

MacArthur ignored Hoover's suggestions and moved his troops ahead.

One of the Hooverville shantytowns burns in the Anacostia Flats with the Capitol dome in the distance. Image via National Archives.

The soldiers marched on the veterans and their tent homes, setting them ablaze.

Tear gas canisters flew ahead of them, bayonets flashed in the sun, a machine-gun brigade brandished its terrifying weapons, and a half dozen tanks lined up behind them for visual reinforcement.

The cavalry on its way to rout the veterans and begin the inferno. Image from "Bonus Army"/PBS.

When it was over, at least one baby died from the tear gas, and one veteran's wife miscarried from the same. Added to this toll were the two veterans killed by police a few days earlier, and 54 injuries from both skirmishes.

Almost immediately, MacArthur held a press conference where he tried to perform impromptu damage control, claiming the Bonus Army was composed of revolutionaries and Communists and that they had threatened the very institution of government.

Hoover's statement the next morning called into question the patriotism and loyalty of the veterans.

It didn't work; the general public held it against Hoover during the presidential elections that year. In newsreels at movie theaters nationwide, a chorus of boos would erupt when news of the military action against veterans took place.

Roosevelt was elected by a massive margin later that year. In addition, the Democrats won significant majorities in both houses of Congress.

While FDR himself did not support the Bonus Army, he did not forget the political cost that actions such as those perpetrated by Hoover exacted. Soon after his election in 1932, FDR established the Civilian Conservation Corps, which created jobs for 25,000 veterans and other Americans. Similarly, when a smaller Bonus Army went to D.C. a year later, rather than send troops, he sent Eleanor to meet with them.

A 1932 Bonus Army "cinderella stamp." Image via Steve Strummer/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1936, Congress passed legislation to honor all bonus payments — nine years early.

Ultimately, the plight of veterans led to the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 — known as the G.I. Bill of Rights — which offered multiple benefits, including college education for veterans, though it was rife with racial bias against African-Americans.

Here's a short video explaining the Bonus Army demonstrations, including testimony from eyewitnesses. The original 30-minute version is by PBS.

Politicians risk a lot when they treat veterans with callousness — and worse.

When unemployment benefits, food stamps, or other programs that help veterans are slashed, there are ramifications. And when deplorable conditions at VA hospitals are brought to light, it casts a shadow on whatever administration is in power at the time.

The story of the Bonus Army should make politicians more cautious when it comes to veterans' issues, but it shouldn't have to come to that. Veterans — like the rest of us — have a right to a good home and a good job in the United States of America.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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