27 Jun 2022


Lost Capitol Hill: The End of the Bonus Army

Last week, we looked at Hill resident William Boswell’s recollections of the Bonus Army. While most of his interactions with them were to visit their campground across the river, as well as having some of them visit his home on M Street Southeast, he was also there on the day when they were removed.

President Hoover had been under ever greater pressure to do something about the thousands of men and their families who were camping all across the city. He was unwilling to give in to their demands, and while the House of Representatives had voted to pay the marchers what they were demanding, the Senate overwhelmingly refused, in spite – or maybe because – of the thousands of protesters surrounding the Capitol.

On June 28, Hoover urged D.C. police superintendant Pelham Glassford (that’s him, above) to remove the protesters from the Capitol and other government buildings. In the process, two marchers were injured and later died of their injuries. This was not enough for Hoover, and, in particular, General Douglas MacArthur, who was sent to clear the Bonus Marchers from Pennsylvania Avenue. Once this had was done – with bayonets and tear gas – MacArthur, against the express orders of Hoover (which MacArthur claimed never to have received) crossed into Anacostia.

The camp of the Bonus Army after being razed by MacArthur’s troops (LOC)

Once again, Boswell had a front-row seat:

I remember the day they ran them out of town—led by “Dugout” Doug [MacArthur]. I was on 11th Street, watching it that day. The day it happened, I remember going with my brother and standing on the west side of 11th Street, below M Street when the tanks came down the middle of the street. There was no traffic. The Chief of Police at that time was an Army man. His name was Gessford. He went by in his sidecar. Then the troops came from Ft. Myer, with fixed bayonet and port arms. They came down both sides of the sidewalk, crossing the bridge to go over to burn the village. I went down as far as the bridge, but didn’t cross the bridge to go over to the other side.

It was just as well that Boswell did not cross the bridge. MacArthur not only dispersed the marchers but burned their shacks for good measure. This in spite of the fact that there were no real problems where the marchers were staying. Boswell explained:

They ran a very taut ship; it was well disciplined. They had their own people policing. You never went down in that camp and saw a uniformed Metropolitan policeman. You never saw any problems until they started to round them up. Crime? There was no significant crime attributed to them. There must have been a better way to handle it.

While the Bonus Army had not achieved their aims, their treatment at the hands of MacArthur did its part to ensure that Hoover was not re-elected. The following year, President Roosevelt gave the younger marchers the opportunity to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, and in 1936, Congress authorized the payment of the bonuses, eight years before they were supposed to be paid out.

For his part, Joseph Heffernan eventually became the legal counsel for the Federal Communications Commission, using his experience as a newspaperman to his advantage not only in his job, but in writing and speaking gigs all around the country. He would live until 1977.

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