The main grievance the B.E.F. were organizing over was a demand for pre-payment for their adjusted service certificates owed to them, voted by Congress in 1924. This non-violent protest was essentially formed out of economic need. In the early thirties, at the start of the Great Depression in America, most men could not find a job and could not afford to feed and house their families. These veterans were simply asking for the aid that was owed them for their service in the first World War.
B.E.F. stands for Bonus Expeditionary Forces. The name "Bonus" is misleading because the Bonus was not a gift but payment of money to compensate men who served in the Army for the difference in pay between that of servicemen and non=servicemen in 1918. The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives, under President Hoover’s administration, by a Texas Representative in 1931 and was pending in Congress. Members of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were both in favor of the bill passing and the latter group was active in securing petitions for Congress.
The story is told by Walter W. Waters who was the Commander of the B.E.F.. His main intention in telling this story is to make a record, that will go down in American history, as to what really happened between the B.E.F., the government, some specific elected officials, the men of the B.E.F. and the police. His style of storytelling is very straightforward and impassioned. He mentions many times through out the text that he resigned and was re-elected more than once. It is clear that the majority of the men felt he was an inefficient, responsible, fair leader that did very good job.
Waters began his mission to see the Bonus paid by addressing a group of the National Veteran’s Association in Portland. The more he spoke, the more people joined their cause until Waters realized that a "Bonus March" to Washington D.C. seemed inevitable because "After all, there was little difference between hunger in Washington and hunger in Portland." When, in early May, when the Bonus bill was shelved "for good" by the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, the B.E.F. was formed and they began the march to Washington D.C.. The men were divided into companies of forty each which included Captains, Lieutenants and Sergeants and they appointed Waters their Commander-in-Chief. The B.E.F. was successful in making their journey to Washington D.C. and carrying out their protest without violence (from their sides) because they conducted themselves with honor, order and in a military style fashion.
The First Amendment states that: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise there of. or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The book is a great example of how this force of unemployed veterans were able to execute this right at the nation’s Capitol.
I enjoyed this book very much. I especially liked the fact that this was a true story that demonstrated that citizens can band together peacefully when they are united for a common cause. It was interested to see how the movement gathered strength and numbers after