Closure Alert . . .

Uncle Sam Wants You—Again!

The third blog post of our series will focus on the years after WWI. In particular, it will explore how WWI vets served their coun­try again decades later in the Civilian Con­ser­va­tion Corps in Texas.

 


Cheering Crowds, Waving Flags, and Happy Faces

Soldiers march in a parade, holding rifles, as crowd cheers.
The 111th Engineers march in a Dallas parade upon return from France, c. 1918 (Portal to Texas History)

On the morning of Nov. 11, 1918, the Great War ended. The Allied forces of Great Britain, France, and the United States emerged victorious, and Amer­i­can troops came home to a nation ready to celebrate.

Whether a public parade through down­town or an intimate re­union around the dinner table, such events captured the ex­u­ber­ance and relief many Amer­icans felt. Families and com­mu­nities were eager to return to life as it had been before the war. They soon discovered, however, that would not be possible.

World War I exposed Americans to new experiences and respon­si­bil­ities. The patriotic adoption of these roles led some to chal­lenge a return to the status quo in peacetime.

For example, women managed the home front and saved lives as nurses during the war. Suffragist calls for the vote grew stronger in light of these contributions. African-American soldiers sampled new freedoms in Europe, a stark contrast to their segregated local communities, and demanded full citizenship and racial equality in the States.

And, as the prosperity of the Roaring 1920s came to a crashing halt, veterans insisted that the government recognize and aid them, too.

Bonus Army

Photo of old flyer
A broadside aimed at WWI vets outlined grievances, discussed payout of service bonuses, and encouraged the men to march in Washington, D.C., (Library of Congress)

Night time photo of campers with the lit-up Capital dome in the background.
Members of the Bonus Army camp on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in 1932 (Library of Congress)

Congress promised World War I vet­er­ans a war­time ser­vice bonus in 1924.

The men would receive $1 ($1.25 if abroad) for each day they were enlisted between April 5, 1917, and July 1, 1919.

There was a catch—the bonus could not be redeemed until 1945. This detail be­came a sticking point for many veterans and their families during the Great De­pres­sion when jobs were scarce and money was tight.

By the summer of 1932, a movement formed in support of an early pay­out. Veterans and their advocates pe­ti­tioned the federal government. Officials re­sisted. Three million promissory cer­ti­fi­cates had been issued at a value of $3.64 billion, a huge sum of money that, if distributed im­me­di­ately, could jeopardize the federal budget.

Groups of veterans arrived in the nation’s capital to support early payment of the bonus. Led by former Sergeant Walter W. Waters, the “Bonus Army” set up camp along the Anacostia River. As many as 43,000 people (17,000 veterans, their families, and other supporters) lived in the camp.

When Congress voted on the issue in mid-June, vets gathered at the Capitol, only to learn the proposal failed in the Senate.

More bad news followed. On July 28, the government ordered the camp vacated and bulldozed. Police met resistance and a short gun battle ensued. Two veterans died. The situation escalated in the after­noon when U.S. Army troops stormed the camp and forcibly evicted its residents.

Reports of the events shocked the nation. The Bonus Army illuminated the extent of unemployment among former service­men. Many Americans, themselves facing finan­cial difficulties, sympathized with the men.

A second Bonus Army march on Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in the spring of 1933 ended differently. Newly-elected President Roosevelt pro­vided a camp for the men and their families in Virginia. His wife Eleanor visited, prompting one vet to observe, “Hoover sent the Army; Roosevelt sent his wife.”

WWI Veterans Join the CCC

tpwd001-R1-E006_1200p.jpg
Veteran CCC workers quarrying rock at Goliad State Park.

In response to the Bonus Army’s demands for action, President Roosevelt expanded the recently-created Civilian Con­ser­va­tion Corps to include veterans.

Men who had served their country during conflict could once again enlist, this time in the "Tree Army." Enrollment was open to vets regardless of age and marital status.

About 225,000 veterans nationwide found temporary work with the CCC. Though some grumbled at the relatively low $30/month pay, the money supported their needy families.

Another helpful boost to struggling vets came in 1936 when Congress passed a bill authorizing $2 million in immediate World War I service bonuses.  

Texas’ Veteran CCC Companies

African-American CCC men smoothing concrete with trowels as a supervisor in white shirt & tie looks on.
Smoothing concrete at Abilene State Park (NARA)

Sepia photo of two workers in front of building
Constructing buildings at Kerrville State Park (TPWD)

In Texas, veteran CCC com­panies worked at Abilene, Huntsville, Goliad, Meridian, Palmetto and Palo Duro Canyon state parks. They also com­pleted soil con­ser­va­tion projects on private land in Temple and developed Sweet­water Metro­politan Park and Kerrville State Park, now Kerrville-Schreiner Park.

Former servicemen interested in joining the CCC applied through their local Veterans Ad­min­i­stration offices. The men were assigned to veterans-only com­panies. Unlike their younger counter­parts, vets could re-enlist multiple times and serve for more than two years. Some men relocated their families with each work assignment.

Between 1933 and 1935, African-American and white vets served together in “mixed” units. After 1935, social and political pressure led to separate com­panies.

Many veterans discovered CCC life was nearly identical to their military experience. In fact, CCC camps were managed by the U.S. Army. Uniforms and a structured schedule provided a com­for­table fa­mil­iar­ity. The atmosphere in veteran CCC camps tended to be more relaxed than that of the junior companies, given the men’s age and maturity.

The benefits of the CCC went beyond a paycheck. On-the-job and educational training helped enrollees acquire new skills. The American Legion offered a job placement program for post-CCC work. On a personal level, veterans-only companies connected servicemen and provided them the chance to share their wartime ex­per­iences with those who understood the demands and sacrifices of military service.

Veteran CCC Companies and Texas State Parks

  • Abilene State Park: Company 1823(V), Fall 1933-September 1934
  • Goliad State Park: Company 3822(V), 1935-1941
  • Meridian State Park: Company 1827(V), 1933-1934
  • Palo Duro Canyon State Park: Company 1821(V), 1828(V), 1829(V), 1824(V), July 1933-August 1935

African-American Veteran CCC Companies and Texas State Parks

  • Abilene State Park: Company 1823(CV), June-September 1935
  • Huntsville State Park: Company 1823(CV), 1937-1942
  • Palmetto State Park: Company 1823(CV), June-October 1937

Black & white portrait of men in CCC company
Company 1827(V) at Meridian SP (TPWD)

WW! CCC logoThis blog series is a collaboration among Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Historic Sites and Structures Program, Interpretive Services Program, and Battleship Texas State Historic Site. Stay tuned for our next post!

 


[1] “Dickson, Paul and Thomas B. Allen. “Marching on History,” Smithsonian Magazine, February 2003, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/marching-on-history-75797769/.