It was the summer of 1932, in the depths of The Great Depression. 43,000 veterans, unable to get work, sorrowfully, so many of them incapable of work due to war injuries and disabilities, came to Washington D.C.
Starving, many of them came with their families. They set up tents, built shacks from scrap lumber, even slept under the open stars as they had done at Argonne-Meuse, that deathly battlefield in World War I France. Some of them marched with two good legs, some of them marched with a wooden stump, and those who still had two good arms were designated to carry our nation's flag.
They came to ask Congress to finally honor the service certificates, the war bonuses promised them so long ago...when soldiers mattered only in war, then forgotten about in peace...just as every veteran of every war can attest.
So, they came to the nation's capitol. And, not wanting to bother the silk-suited Congressmen over on Capitol Hill, they made their camp on the muddy Anacostia flats just outside the city.
And in those camps they raised the America flag each day, played reveille, conducted themselves like good soldier should. And, when night fell, they sat about the campfire and sang the old songs...the songs that helped them get through the savagery of war so long ago.
But those Congressmen over on Capitol Hill didn't like having those veterans so close by....they made them nervous...too many reminders of political promises to soldiers broken without conscience.
When the day came for Congress to vote on payment of those war bonuses the veterans gathered around a roped off White House, and a roped off Capitol Hill, then just stood outside...waiting to hear if Congress would pay their bonuses so they might eat and have a place to stay.
Sadly, Congress voted no on early payment of those bonuses. Seems the government could pay farmers not to plant, and could pay construction tycoons to build skyscrapers and roadways and government buildings...but they just couldn't spare any money to pay the promised war bonuses.
As the politicians voted no, they cocked an ear, awaiting the din of rioting outside. Instead, they heard those old vets break out into song. And the song was "America". As the vets dejectedly retreated from Capitol Hill, back across the Anacostia Bridge, to their tents and shacks built on muddy flats, all that could be heard were the sweet notes of "My country tis of thee....sweet land of liberty...of thee I sing".
The old vets didn't riot....but the politicians still didn't like having them over there. So the government ordered them rousted out.
And that would be the job of the Generals, the men with half a yard of colorful ribbons adorning their chests. So Douglas MacArthur suited up and so did George Patton. And they rounded up some army units, fired up the tanks, wheeled out the cannon, and paraded out to those muddy flats where the veterans camped. When the old vets first saw them, they cheered, thinking their fellow soldiers had come out to honor them with a parade.
Sadly, no parade. Instead the tanks came...and the tear gas, and they plowed their way through the crowd, trampling innocents, rolling over make shift tent and shack alike, injuring many, even taking the lives of a few.
Those old vets, who had won a war for freedom of the western world, could not win this one. Instead, they hobbled back out to the hinterlands, marching on stumps, catching an empty box car when one was available, left to starve from all those broken promises.
One vet stayed just long enough to confront George Patton, a fellow named Joe Angelo. Angelo had earned an audience with General Patton...since Joe Angelo had once saved Patton's life on 26 September, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. So, when the two men came face to face, Joe Angelo asked "How could you do this to us, General?" And Patton stood unfazed, untouched by the sentiment, quickly dismissing the old vet who had once saved his life.
Though it was never recorded what Joe Angelo felt on that sad day, every veteran, of every war, knows exactly how he must have felt. For we have all been forsaken, with many promises made in the fog of war, forgotten....from Bunker Hill to Appomatix, from the Chosun Reservoir to Khe Sanh...forgotten.
Sad. Damned Sad.