Arizona Veterans: GI Bill Anniversary

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The original GI Bill is turning 72 this year. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the “GI Bill” was enacted on June 22, 1944. There are several GI Bill programs that help military service members and their families obtain an education or training. Historian Jack August, who leads philanthropy and institutional advancement for the Arizona Capitol Museum, will talk about the history of the GI Bill.

Ted Simons: Our continuing look at veterans issue through our Arizona veterans coming home series focuses tonight on the G.I. bill which turns 72 today and is considered by many to be one of the most successful pieces of social legislate every written. We welcome Jack August, historian and administrator at the Arizona capitol museum to talk about the G.I. bill and Arizona's part in its history. What is the G.I. bill?

Jack August: It's returning veterans from World War II had some options, some opportunities to go to school, to borrow low interest loans to buy houses and start businesses in essence.

Ted Simons: Officially called the serviceman's readjustment act of 1944, like a new deal for veterans.

Jack August: That's a good point. In some of those that opposed the bill, Robert Taft, for example, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio and Congressman Everett Dirksen thought it was an expansion of the new deal and they were tired of it. There was opposition but fortunately four our veterans Senator McFarland did the heavy lifting. He was a freshman Senator, really went to every subcommittee hearing, executive committee hearing. He was the voice on the radio, not the face, television wasn't quite there. He was on television later. He did a lot of the heavy lifting and drafted the most important provisions for the legacy of the bill and they still impact us today.

Ted Simons: Senator from Arizona.

Jack August: Yes. He really was a factor. Yes. The big factor. He really started thinking about it in 1942, started talking about it to a lot of veterans groups and kind of really had it outlined in '42, '43 it was still pushing back and forth, finally they get it through I think the House and Senate agreed.

Ted Simons: What exactly was the reason that this was considered an important thing to do? We look now we think, helping veterans returning from World War II, that should be kind of a no brainer. I guess what happened to veterans from World War I played a big part.

Jack August: Exactly. That's correct. Senator McFarland was a veteran of World War I although he didn't go overseas. He was very ill, military doctors virtually saved his life. As he started his local career in County politics, a judge, a lawyer, he witnessed 1932 the bonus marchers, World War I veterans that were being crippled by the depression, this he no chance. In fact they ended up in D.C. camping out in their Hooverville as they called it. None other than Dwight Eisenhower was on the ground guy that spoke them up, General MacArthur as well.

Ted Simons: I think MacArthur and Eisenhower were at odds there. Eisenhower wasn't too happy about MacArthur going down to break this thing up. Called him a couple salty names there.

Jack August: Yes, he did.

Ted Simons: That was worked on and passed before the end the war.

Jack August: Yes, it was. I think that was visionary on Senator McFarland's part as well as those in the veterans groups, Mr. was even a mother of the bill, Elizabeth Rogers, Massachusetts Republican. There was a bipartisan dimension to the bill. She worked it in the house and McFarland did the big lifting in the Senate. He had help, of course.

Ted Simons: What was the impact of the G.I. bill?

Jack August: Oh, my gosh. A generation that John Kenneth Galbraith calls the great society, it was a generation that we had of a influence instead of a depression after a war. So it was just a profound influence. It created the great middle class that we have today. Housing, 20 million veterans got education. The impact there was their dependents, it may have impacted 50 million to this point in time. Since then there have been revisions, in 1952 with Korea, then 1966 and onward up to the 9/11 bill we adapted and refined the bill in order to make sure that our veterans are treated as they should be.

Ted Simons: What were some of the adaptations or adaptations in?

Jack August: There was -- they expanded the hospitalization for example, that wasn't really part of the first iteration of the bill. Increase in the amount of funds for education, for going to school and all that. Had to change as the economy changed. So did the payouts for --

Ted Simons: Originally it was tuition assistance, home and business loans for the most part.

Jack August: For the most part.

Ted Simons: Again, some folks think this is the most successful piece of social legislation this country has ever seen.

Jack August: I think there's consensus among historians the greatest piece of legislation in this country.

Ted Simons: At the time, who is against this?

Jack August: Just a few. They may be early day tea partyer types that didn't want the government to intervene in any way in the economy. Like Robert Taft. Later on he comes on board in the '52 act. He sees the good. So people can change their minds about these types of things.

Ted Simons: With that in mind what is the future of the G.I. bill?

Jack August: I think it's going to be part of the social and cultural fabric of veterans affairs from now until you and I are long gone. It's really -- we continue -- it's a high profile news item all the time. We see our problems with the veteran's affairs issues in Phoenix, for example. As long as people like you do your job and keep a lens on it will be good for all of us.

Ted Simons: As far as the variations and the adaptations, these sorts of things, the ways of military change, so how you help those who serve in the military has to change?

Jack August: It has to. Women, minorities, all those people. It changed. Original one we had to cross a couple of racial barriers after 1944. Certainly I think it can still be improved upon but we made great progress since that time.

Ted Simons: As an historian, last question, what's the one thing you think people don't realize about the G.I. bill?

Jack August: That it expanded our urban suburban civilization. People were able instead of living in apartments after the war they were able to get a loan and move out and buy a house. That really changed the shape of our cities and how we live.

Ted Simons: Welcome to suburbia.

Jack August: Yes.

Ted Simons: Thanks for being here.

Jack August: Thanks a lot.

Ted Simons: Thursday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll tell you about a new way of measuring the state's progress in helping job creation and learn about research designed to make solar panels cheaper and more accessible. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." If you'd like to watch tonight's program again or see previous editions, check us out on the web, azpbs.org/Horizon. That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Jack August: Historian who leads Philanthropy and Institutional Advancement for the Arizona Capitol Museum

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