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.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."