In 1942, soon after Pearl Harbor, legislation was introduced in Congress to provide benefits for the men and women of World War II. The law, known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, would become one of the most important pieces of social legislation in American history. Some 7.8 million World War II veterans took advantage of it in academic disciplines as well as paid on-the job training programs. It also guaranteed ex-servicemen loans to buy homes or farms or start businesses. The G.I. Bill helped create a well-educated, well-housed new American middle class whose consumption patterns would fuel the postwar economy.
President Roosevelt, overcoming his long-standing opposition to “privileges” for veterans, signed the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944,” as the G.I. Bill was called, on June 22. At that moment, Allied troops were liberating Europe under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. One of his generals, George S. Patton, was leading troops toward the Seine, while Douglas MacArthur was planning the liberation of the Philippines. For the three by-then legendary figures, the Bonus March had receded into the past, a mostly embarrassing incident, largely forgotten. If character is destiny, however, the major players in that drama had enacted, in cameo, the defining roles they would soon assume on the stage of the 20th century.