The Sad Wings of Destiny: The Bonus Army, a Hurricane and Drones

“FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGING AMERICA”

by Steven Neill, ©2013

Does the U.S. Constitution allow for government forces to be aimed against American citizens?

(Jul. 13, 2013) — Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. George Washington [1]

Today, the federal government has the U.S. Constitution on a rack and is slowly pulling it to pieces. This is no accident; under the guise of “security” our freedoms are being stripped away, and those who object to it are being directly threatened from the highest office in the land. On June 7, 2013 de facto President Obama stated: “If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here [2]

Obama’s open threat shows the growing attitudes of many in government today; obey, or be punished. This is not a new attitude; in fact, this was the attitude of three of the most powerful Americans of the 1930’s. In what has become a forgotten tragedy, President Herbert Hoover, General Douglas MacArthur and FDR showed just how willing our government is to use force on Americans.

Beginning with the French & Indian War, it was a common practice to pay people bonuses in cash or land grants to entice them to enlist in the military. [3] This practice was stopped in 1917 by the Selective Service Act, when they had to draft 2.8 million men to serve in World War I because it was such an unpopular war. [4] The draftees were organized into four categories, one of which exempted draftees working in essential defense industries from active duty.  By the end of the war, those staying home to work had earned about ten times [5] what the combat troops had earned and many retained their positions when the U.S. went into a recession following the war.

With a progressive mindset settling over the nation, the veterans soon began to argue that they should receive “adjusted compensation” as reparation for the wages they lost while serving overseas. Though opposed by Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Congress created the “adjusted universal compensation” as a bonus in 1924. These interest-earning government bonds would be paid out to the veterans in 1945.

With the advent of the Great Depression in 1929, many of the vets became desperate for the money promised to them earlier. When Congress began to debate a bill in March 1932 that would allow an early payment, unemployed veteran Walter W. Waters [6] began to drum up backing in Portland, Oregon for a veterans’ march on Washington, DC to support the bill. As the bill stalled in Congress, Waters and 300 vets hopped on trains and began “riding the rails” to DC.

This “ride” created a media circus and soon, vets from all over America began hopping on trains to go to DC. Within a few weeks, over 20,000 vets and their families showed up at the nation’s capital. The group was soon nicknamed the Bonus Expeditionary Force [7] (BEF) and enjoyed massive support from all over America.

“I was horrified to see plain evidence of hunger in their faces.” — Evalyn Walsh McLean

The group created a main camp they named “Camp Marks” in an old dump along the Anacostia River. This dump supplied much of the materials needed to create their own “Hooverville.” Donations of food, clothing, cigarettes and other needed supplies flowed in, and soon the camp more resembled a small city than a shantytown. There were streets, a post office, barber shop, and even their own newspaper.

Camp life was orderly, as alcohol, weapons, fighting, and begging were all prohibited, as were communists and anarchists.  So well-behaved were they that the Police Chief Pelham Glassford, [8] himself a decorated World War I general, sympathized with his fellow vets.  He toured the camp almost daily, organized medical care, provided building materials, solicited local merchants for food donations, and even contributed $773 out of his own pocket for provisions.

Facing a depression of epic proportion, Congress was unlikely to pass the “Bonus Bill.” Rumors were also spreading of communist infiltration of the BEF. These rumors took root within the halls of a government that had already prepared to stop civil unrest in DC by using US Army troops supplied with tanks, machine guns and poisonous gas.

The “Bonus Bill” was brought to a vote by the US House of Representatives and passed on June 15, 1932. Some 8,000 vets gathered at the Capitol while 10,000 more were in Camp Marks the next day as the Senate debated the bill. [9] The debate lasted until 9:30 that night, and the bill was defeated. When Waters reported the news to the awaiting vets, there was a moment when it looked as if violence might break out but instead, someone started singing “America” and the men went back to the camp.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Manila, Philippines, in 1945

Over the next few days, many vets went home, but Waters and about 20,000 vets stayed with the stated intention of waiting until 1945 if needed to get their bonus. Weeks passed and President Hoover, Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, and Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley increasingly feared that the Bonus Army would turn violent. Hoover was also concerned about the veterans who had begun to occupy local abandoned buildings.

On July 28th, Hoover, having had enough of the vets occupying the vacant buildings, ordered police Chief Glassford on July 28th to forcibly remove them. Glassford and a hundred officers moved in but the vets refused to budge. The confrontation turned ugly when a vet threw a brick at the police who retaliated with their nightsticks. Then, shots rang out and one vet was dead and another mortally wounded while three police were injured.

Seeing that the police were not going to be able to evict the vets on their own, Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur assumed command of the local U.S. Army units and ordered them to move the vets from downtown. Major George S. Patton, leading nearly two hundred mounted cavalry with sabers drawn and pennants flying, rode into the crowds of vets and bystanders who were attracted by the commotion. Behind them came nearly three hundred infantrymen with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets followed closely by five tanks.

A Nightmare Come to Life

Bystander Fred Blacher later recalled: “By God, all of a sudden I see these cavalrymen come up the avenue and then swinging down to The Mall. I thought it was a parade. I asked a gentleman standing there, I said, ‘Do you know what’s going on? What holiday is this?’ He says, ‘It’s no parade, bud.’ He says, ‘The Army is coming in to wipe out all these bonus people down here.’”

Moving in unison, the soldiers marched towards the vets and the bystanders who had been attracted by the commotion. Halting before the crowds, the soldiers donned their gas masks, then tossed hundreds of gas grenades at them. As the clouds of evil gray gas stung the eyes and burned the lungs of the men, women and children, the cavalry pushed everyone off the streets while the grenades started dozens of fires.

MacArthur, thriving in the chaos, rode in his staff car like Mars, the god of war. A bystander, with tear-streaked face and blood- red eyes, ran to him and yelled, “‘The American flag means nothing to me after this,” to which MacArthur responded, “Put this man under arrest if he opens his mouth again.”

As twilight approached, the troops stopped at the outskirts of Camp Marks. General MacArthur gave the vets twenty minutes to remove the women and children from the camp before he moved in. Like clockwork, the soldiers attacked with tear gas and fixed bayonets, clearing the camp. One baby died from gas inhalation as its mother was fleeing the camp. Then, the soldiers torched the camp which turned the night sky an angry red as the flames consumed the rickety buildings and was seen for miles around the nation’s capital.

The tired and overwhelmed vets, along with their wives and children, began the four-mile march towards the Maryland border and Army National Guard trucks that waited to drive them to Pennsylvania. As the flames were dying in the once-peaceful town, General MacArthur called a press conference, saying: “Had the President not acted today, had he permitted this thing to go on for twenty-four hours more, he would have been faced with a grave situation which would have caused a real battle. Had he let it go on another week, I believe the institutions of our Government would have been severely threatened.” By morning, all that remained of Camp Marks were charred ruins of buildings and dreams. All told, three people died, fifty-four were injured and the police made 135 arrests.

Without any political experience, Herbert Hoover won the election of 1928 against Democrat Al Smith to become the 31st President of the United States from 1929-1933

Later, several eyewitnesses, including Dwight D. Eisenhower [10] insisted that President Hoover’s orders forbade the troops from entering Camp Marks and several couriers arrived from the White House confirming those orders. In fact, Ike later wrote in his book At Ease that MacArthur “said he was too busy and did not want either himself or his staff bothered by people coming down and pretending to bring orders.” Eisenhower put it more bluntly during an interview with the late historian Stephen Ambrose: “I told that dumb son-of-a-b**** he had no business going down there.”

Even George S. “Blood & Guts” Patton, a man who revered duty, had mixed emotions, calling it a “most distasteful form of service.” Within months he criticized the Army’s tactics, believing they violated every precept of handling civil unrest. Still, he commended both sides: “It speaks volumes for the high character of the men that not a shot was fired. In justice to the marchers, it should be pointed out that had they really wanted to start something, they had a great chance here, but refrained.” And while Patton was disgusted that “Bolsheviks” were in the mix, he considered most of the Bonus Army “poor, ignorant men, without hope, and without really evil intent.”  To his dismay, the routed marchers included Joseph Angelo, who 14 years earlier had saved the wounded Patton’s life by pulling him to safety from a foxhole.

The event was broadcast and shown in movie theaters across the nation, generating anger at Hoover and the Army and sympathy for the vets with their plight. Upon learning of the Bonus Army incident, Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked: “Well, this will elect me.” [11] Roosevelt was correct; he buried Hoover in November.

Foolishly believing they had an advocate in FDR, the BEF began drifting back to Washington, and by May 1933, some 3,000 of them were housed in an abandoned fort outside of Washington. Wanting to score some political points but not wanting to pay them their bonus, FDR sent his wife Eleanor to meet with the vets, prompting one to say. “Hoover sent the Army; Roosevelt sent his wife.” She went with an offer for the vets to join the New Deal public works program called the Civilian Conservation Corps for $1 a day and all the food they could eat. Some 2,600 did join.

“It Was As Bad As the War” — Ernest Hemingway

FDR’s gratitude to the vets disappeared after he was elected and no longer needed them. Most of them, by this time, had become outcasts. Some were drunks, and some suffered from shell shock. Some were hardened misfits. All were an embarrassment and a shame to the country that had conscripted them to fight and then had abandoned them. In order to dispose of the remaining vets, FDR created the “veterans’ rehabilitation camps” in South Carolina and Florida. In Florida, 700 men filled three work camps in Islamorada and Lower Matecumbe in the Florida Keys, building bridges for a highway [12] that would extend from Miami to Key West.

Unfortunately for those sent to the Florida Keys, an inhuman monster was ready to finish what FDR had started. A hurricane that was first recorded on August 31, 1935 just northeast of Turks Island was thundering towards the Keys. Though small in size, [13] as hurricanes go — merely 10 miles across, it was already a giant in force and growing exponentially. Northeast storm warnings were posted from Fort Pierce to Fort Myers, and caution was advised for the Florida Keys.

By Labor Day on September 2, the storm had transformed itself into a lethal killing machine, packing winds from 150 to 200 MPH [14] with gusts up to 250 MPH headed straight towards the unsuspecting veterans at Camp 5. The morning started off with strong northerly winds that were gaining speed with each passing minute. By noon, Camp Commander Eddie Parker telephoned the Florida East Coast Railroad [15] to send down the evacuation train that was supposed to be ready at Homestead in case of such a storm. Only the train wasn’t there; no one had even bothered to get it ready. With all the speed of a turtle, the train finally departed Miami at 4:25, arriving in Homestead after 5:00 PM. From there, it slowly backed down the track to evacuate the veterans, who by now had abandoned Camp Number 5 and were huddling along the railway embankment seeking any shelter from the winds they could find.

Storm waves began to crash over the banks. The wind blew the sand hard enough to change the granules of sand into tiny missiles that blasted flesh from human faces. As night began to fall and the train still didn’t arrive, some of the men went back to the camp.

Sometime after 8:00 P.M., J. A. Duncan, the keeper of the Alligator Reef Lighthouse, went out onto the observation platform to check the light. A wall of black water suddenly loomed over the lighthouse. In a frenzied attempt to survive, he jumped for the ladder and held fast as tons of sea water crashed over him, shattering the glass and the lenses. Duncan later reported that the wave seemed to be 90 feet high. In reality, it was 20 feet high and powered by 250-MPH gusts of wind.

The wave rumbled over the Keys, ripping roofs off houses and homes from their foundations as it pushed homes and beds along with their inhabitants out to sea. The rescue train finally arrived at Camp 5 at 8:30 only to be obliterated by the mass of water crushing everything in its path. Uprooting the track and twisting the trestles, it tore nine of the ten cars off the track, leaving only the engine stranded on the wreckage. Crashing into Camp 5, the wave leveled every building, sending timbers and bodies out to sea.

When the eye passed over Lower Matecumbe Key, the barometer plummeted to 26.35 inches, the lowest reading ever recorded for a Western Hemisphere hurricane.

In the ten-mile-wide swath cut by the storm, hardly anyone was left alive to greet the new day’s sun. Everything was destroyed— buildings, docks, roads, viaducts, trees, the railroad and its bridges. Many of the dead would forever disappear [16] as they were washed out to sea. Draping like Spanish moss, bodies were found hanging among overturned and stripped mangroves, as well as buried in sand and debris or in sunken wrecks of boats. Few survivors were without injury.

With communication cut off with the Keys, help was slow to arrive. Some of the injured died of thirst while stranded in trees. When they did arrive, the rescuers were appalled at the devastation they saw. The National Guard command ordered all of the bodies to be cremated. Though the count will never be known, somewhere between 400–600 people died that night, and among those were 265 World War I veterans. Those who survived were quietly shuffled off [17] to other locations.

Ernest Hemingway was seriously wounded during World War I and became a journalist covering overseas wars

Outraged over the government irresponsibility and having been on one of the first rescue boats, Ernest Hemingway [18] wrote a scathing account called “”Who Murdered the Vets? A First-Hand Report on the Florida Hurricane,” published on September 17, 1935, just weeks after the event. Although billed as a personal account, in reality it was an outraged demand for accountability for the needless deaths of the veterans. In it, Hemingway brought out that the Roosevelt administration had deliberately put them in harm’s way by having them work on the Florida Keys during hurricane season and then leaving them to their fate when the storm did arrive.

He asked these volatile questions: “Whom did they annoy and to whom was their possible presences a political danger?” “Who sent them down to the Florida Keys and left them there in hurricane months?” and closed with “Who left you there? And what’s the punishment for manslaughter now?”

Finally, in 1936, the bonus was paid to the remaining vets, closing one of America’s most tragic examples of abusing American citizens.

These events clearly show that brute force was a U.S. government option to control things they didn’t like. The current U.S. government policy is to take the word “option” out of that last statement.

“Our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change” — Michael Bloomberg

Since 2009, four American citizens have been killed in drone attacks abroad, Attorney General Eric Holder [19] disclosed in a letter on May 22nd, 2013.  Three of the men “were not specifically targeted” for death, the letter says. It also publicly admits to a list of people the administration has determined to be a “continuing and imminent threat” that could not feasibly be captured: in other words, a Presidential “kill list.”

Holder confirmed that the U.S. government had targeted and killed Anwar al-Awlaki in September 2011 by a drone strike in Yemen.  U.S. citizen Samir Khan, a writer for the al-Qaida magazine “Inspire,” was killed alongside al-Awlaki in the drone attack.  A month later, Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman was also killed by a U.S. drone, the letter admits. Holder said the teenager was not targeted, [20] but did not provide more details. Not targeted yet still assassinated?

Journalist Tom Junod [21] had this to say about Abdulrahman: “But Abdulrahman al-Awlaki wasn’t on an American kill list. Nor was he a member of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Nor was he “an inspiration,” as his father styled himself, for those determined to draw American blood; nor had he gone “operational,” as American authorities said his father had, in drawing up plots against Americans and American interests. He was a boy who hadn’t seen his father in two years.

The official explanations of the event are anything but reassuring to those who have an issue with being killed by a Presidential order because they might pose a “threat.” The first explanation was that killing the teenager was simply a “bad mistake.” The second was from John Brennan, who at the time was Obama’s senior adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, and “suspected that the kid had been killed intentionally and ordered a review. I don’t know what happened with the review.”

America received further insight into the attitude of the Obama administration towards assassinating American children with this cold-blooded statement by former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who, when asked about the murder of the 16-year-old, said, “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well-being of their children.” Is that a reasonable explanation for murder?

We are assured by the most “accountable and transparent” administration in American history that it conducts copious reviews after each drone strike and supplies all relevant information to congressional oversight. Yet the limited information given to the public concerning the murder of Abdulrahman is conflicting and limited. What do they have to hide from us?

Rounding out the four U.S. citizens killed was Jude Kenan Mohammed, who was briefly on the FBI’s “most wanted” list.

John Brennan is Obama’s new CIA Director and also a practicing Muslim

Holder’s letter says that under John Brennan, director of the CIA, Obama formalized recently the process of selecting targets [22] abroad for drone attacks and legal justification [23] for killing U.S. citizens abroad without trial. It also promises that “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” in a strike.

Since May, there has been little information forthcoming from either Obama or his administration on exactly how this illegal and unconstitutional program is operated. So in early June, the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights [24] initiated lawsuits against the U.S. government for the murder of three Americans killed by drone strikes.

The government responded that the strikes against American were constitutional because the government performed “exceptionally rigorous interagency legal review” which they determined to be lawful — along with the President’s statement that those actions were legal — only support the conclusion that those actions were lawful, so said Paul E. Werner, a trial lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Division. In other words; they are legal because President Obama says they are.” [25] Now, isn’t that comforting?

The lawsuit states, “two years after the fact, the president declassified what the entire world knew to be true — that the government killed three American citizens, including a 16-year-old boy,” the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint statement. “Now, the government continues to insist that the courts have no role in evaluating the legality of its actions. But the executive branch cannot simply declare the killings lawful and attempt to close the book on that basis. A federal judge, not executive officials examining their own conduct, must determine the constitutionality of the government’s actions.”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the estates of three American citizens killed in drone strikes. The suit alleges the killings violated the constitutional rights to due process of the slain Americans. One American killed by a drone, Anwar al Awlaki, was specifically targeted by the U.S. government. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son and another American, Samir Khan, were killed in strikes that didn’t specifically target them.

The filing also stated that the “fact that the government has now declassified its use of lethal force against the decedents — after its long-standing argument that such disclosure would present grave risks to national security” — suggested the blanket concerns about classified information were “speculative.”

In the midst of defending drone strikes as constitutional and legal, it was discovered that on June 9, 2013 a U.S. drone fired on a vehicle in a remote province of Yemen and killed several militants. Among the casualties was a ten-year-old boy [26] named Abdulaziz, whose elder brother, Saleh Hassan Huraydan, was believed to have been the desired target. The official government response to killing another civilian by drone strike was silence.

Does Eric Holder uphold the U.S. Constitution or take orders from Obama?

Responding to a thirteen-hour filibuster by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on the government “right” to kill Americans on American soil, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Paul that “it is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

In order to “dismiss some of the outlandish claims” surrounding drones,” Obama stated, “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil,” [27] he said. However, “believe” and “should” are neither legally enforceable nor constitutionally-supported terms meant to provide escape routes from the legal absolutes Americans need to hear when concerning government “kill lists.”

In spite of the horrific outcome, Hoover’s intentions were only to move the Bonus Army out of abandoned buildings and back into their camp. MacArthur was a glory hound who went beyond his orders but still never gave the order to kill an unarmed American, while FDR just used the Bonus Army to gain the White House and pushed them out of public sight when they were no longer needed. But none of them deliberately killed their fellow Americans.

America is well along the path of tyrannies past with the unlimited invasion of our privacy via NSA; [28] the punishing of political opponents via the IRS; [29] the destruction of a vital but presidentially unpopular coal industry [30] via executive order; and now, the allowance of foreign troops to be used with FEMA forces on American soil [31] in case of civil unrest. And we are led by a man who ultimately believes he needs to “fundamentally change America.” [32] Does part of that change include the presidential right to kill Americans?

——————

1.“Government Is Not Reason, It Is Not Eloquence — It Is Force”

2.Barack Obama “If people can’t trust the government, then we’re going to have some problems here.”

3. Bounty System

4. Conscription in the United States

5. Hoover & the Depression: The Bonus Army

6. The ‘Bonus Army’ War in Washington

7. Bonus Army

8. Hoover & the Depression: The Bonus Army

9. The Bonus Army: How a Protest Led to the GI Bill

10. The Bonus March (May-July, 1932)

11. The Bonus Army

12. The Florida Keys Memorial

13. 1935 Labor Day Hurricane

14. Lee Davis, Natural Disasters Book Review

15. 1935 Labor Day Hurricane

16. Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

17. Interview with Willie Drye: Katrina and the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

18. When Hemingway Took the Government to Task for a Hurricane Disaster that Cost Hundreds of Lives

19. Holder: Drone strikes have killed four Americans since 2009

20. Drone Attacks Accidentally Killed Americans, Obama Administration Reveals

21. Obama’s Administration Killed a 16-Year-Old American and Didn’t Say Anything About It. This Is Justice?

22. OBAMA: Here’s When It’s OK To Kill An American Citizen With A Drone

23. Obama, in a Shift, to Limit Targets of Drone Strikes

24. ACLU Drones Lawsuit Slams Obama For Asserting Right To Kill Americans Without Oversight

25. Justice Department: American Citizen Drone Killings Constitutional Because Obama, Holder Said So

26. Obama has no answer for 10-year-old killed in Yemen drone strike

27. Obama: No President Should ‘Deploy Armed Drones Over U.S. Soil’

28. Power Is Not A Means; It Is An End

29. IRS Scandal: It Wasn’t Just Cincinnati (and May Involve Other Federal Agencies)

30. Whitfield Blasts Obama about Destroying Coal Industry

31. FEMA Signs “Exchange” Deal With Russian Government

Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news.  She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.

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