• U.S.

HEROES: Battle of Washington

12 minute read

When War came in 1917 William Hushka, 22-year-old Lithuanian, sold his St. Louis butcher shop, gave the proceeds to his wife, joined the Army. He was sent to Camp Funston, Kan. where he was naturalized. Honorably discharged in 1919, he drifted to Chicago, worked as a butcher, seemed unable to hold a steady job. His wife divorced him, kept their small daughter. Long jobless, in June he joined a band of veterans marching to Washington to fuse with the Bonus Expeditionary Force. “I might as well starve there as here,” he told his brother. At the capital he was billeted in a Government-owned building on Pennsylvania Avenue. One of thousands, he took part in the demonstration at the Capitol the day Congress adjourned without voting immediate cashing of the Bonus.

Last week William Hushka’s Bonus for $528 suddenly became payable in full when a police bullet drilled him dead in the worst public disorder the capital has known in years.

Prelude to Washington’s bloody battle was a third march toward the White House by some 200 Reds, led by Communist John Pace, Michigan contractor. It was a routine performance which the police efficiently squelched with much pate-thwacking and nine arrests. One veteran climbed a tree, kept shouting “We want our Bonus!” until police dragged him down, gagged him. This radical demonstration, outlawed by the regular B. E. F. was important only in that it gave Administration officials the idea of blaming Communists for all that followed.

More serious trouble was presented by the Treasury’s attempt to repossess Government property on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue, three blocks west of the Capitol. Wholesale warehouses, a cheap hotel, automobile showrooms, a Chinese restaurant and an undertaking shop occupied the row of old ugly brick buildings on this site. The U. S.had bought up the land as part of its plan to beautify the Federal City (TIME. May 6, 1929). The plot was to be converted into a park. Wreckers had knocked the walls out of the buildings when the B. E. F. began to arrive last May. Brigadier General Pelham Glassford. Washington’s long-legged, kindly police chief, arranged to halt demolition, have veterans quartered in the skeletonized buildings. With Congress gone and the Bonus fight over, the Treasury sought to evict the veterans and start work again. Four times 200-odd veterans were ordered out. Four times they refused to budge.

One morning last week General Glassford finally persuaded Walter W. Waters, the B. E. F.’s curly-headed commander, to evacuate his men on the promise of new quarters elsewhere. Treasury agents arrived at 10 a. m. to clear the buildings. Most of the veterans refused to leave. Police helped the Federal men do their job. Hundreds of veterans swelled to thousands as men flocked from other B. E. F. camps to the scene to watch the eviction. By noon the buildings had been practically cleared when a trio of veterans carrying a U. S. flag tried to march back in. Police blocked them. Somebody tossed a brick. “There’s a fight!” went up the cry. More bricks flew.

“Give the cops hell!” a veteran shouted. His massed companions pressed in upon the police, now flailing with their clubs. The fighting spread with quick contagion. One policeman had his head bashed in. Veterans trampled him. Blood streamed down others’ faces. Veterans swung scrap iron, hunks of concrete, old boards. General Glassford rushed into the melee, was knocked flat by a brick. Before he could get up. a veteran snatched off his gold police badge. A riot call brought 800 extra police to battle several thousand of the B. E. F.

“Be peaceful, men! Be calm!” shouted General Glassford. “Let’s not throw any more bricks. They’re mighty hard and hurt. You’ve probably killed one of my best officers.”

“Hell, that’s nothing,” a veteran flung back. “Lots of us were killed in France.”

Meanwhile hot-headed veterans had seeped back into their old quarters to tussle with police amid the rubble. Officers George Shinault and Miles Zamanezck were cornered on the second floor. “Let’s get ’em!” someone shouted. The two policemen pulled their revolvers. A half dozen shots banged out. William Hushka keeled over with a bullet in his heart (1:25 p. m.). Two other veterans were wounded.* One of them, Eric Carlson, 38, of Oakland. CaL, died later.

The street fighting gradually subsided. A legless veteran inside the Government building loudly challenged the police to remove him. He was ignored. General Glassford withdrew his forces. The B. E. F. cooled off, recovered its head. Commander Waters, who had kept out of the fray, nervously declared: “The men got out of control. There’s nothing I can do.”

But there was something the three District of Columbia Commissioners governing the city could do and they did it. President Hoover was lunching when the Commissioners called to ask him for Federal troops. ‘Tell them to put their request in writing,” said the President. They wrote:

“A serious riot occurred. . . . This area contains thousands of brickbats and these were used by the rioters in their attack upon the police. … It ‘will be impossible to maintain law & order except by the free use of firearms which will make the situation a dangerous one. The presence of Federal troops will result in far less violence and bloodshed.”

Without declaring martial law (he did not have to because Washington is Federal territory). President Hoover ordered Secretary of War Hurley to call out the Army from Fort Myer in nearby Virginia. Secretary Hurley passed the command along to handsome, well-tailored General Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff, in the following crisp dispatch (2:55 p. m.):

“You will have United States troops proceed immediately to the scene of the disorder. Surround the affected area and clear it without delay. . . . Any women and children should be accorded every consideration and kindness. Use all humanity consistent with the execution of this order.

” Six minutes later cavalry and infantry, to the number of 1,000 men began moving into Washington for an encounter with the B. E. F. for which the War Department had long been preparing.* In their wake came five small tanks, a fleet of trucks. Bayonets glittered in the sun, equipment clanked over the pavement as the force marched slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue. Reaching the “affected area” (4:45 p. m.) troopers rode straight into the hooting, booing ranks of the B. E. F. Veterans scrambled out of the way of swinging sabres, trampling hoofs. Steel-helmeted infantrymen with drawn revolvers advanced 20 abreast. Behind them came others with rifles lowered, bayonets prodding.

Suddenly tear gas bombs began to pop on the street. The soldiers put on their masks, pushed slowly on while the heavy grey fumes cut great gaps in the retreating throng of veterans. Citizen spectators tangled with the soldiers, were ordered to “get the hell out of the way.” The Government buildings were methodically gassed. A huge Negro sat in a crotch of a tree, waving a U. S. flag and sonorously chanting: “God that gave us this h’yar country, h’ep us now.

“The unarmed B. E. F. did not give the troopers a real fight. They were too stunned and surprised that men wearing their old uniform should be turned against them. Here & there veterans would toss back gas bombs with half-forgotten skill. kick the troopers’ horses, throw a few-bricks, swear bitter oaths at the impassive regulars, most of them youngsters. But resistance was wholly unorganized.

General MacArthur directed the military operation, tears streaming down his cheeks, not from emotion but from the fumes of the bombs. When his cavalry rode down a group of veterans with a U. S. flag, a spectator sang out: “The American flag means nothing to me after this.” General MacArthur snapped: “Put that man under arrest if he opens his mouth again.

” The rout of the B. E. F. from Pennsylvania Avenue broke its back. But the military was not yet through. It “gassed” small scattered camps in the vicinity of the Capitol, shoved out their occupants, left smoking ruins behind. By 9 p. m.the troopers had advanced to the Anacostia bridge, beyond which on the mudflats lay Bonus City, the B. E. F.’s main encampment. The camp commander rushed out waving a white shirt for a truce, asked for time to evacuate the several hundred women and children. He got an hour’s grace.

As the infantry moved into Bonus City (10:14 p. m.) gassing each wretched shack and shanty, veterans by the thousands trudged off into the night. Some carried their belongings wrapped in bundles on their backs. One drunk went lurching away bearing only a large oil lamp. A few sang old War songs. Women carried babies in their arms. Huts and lean-tos were set afire, partly by the departing veterans, partly by the soldiers. By midnight Bonus City, once the home of 10,000 jobless hungry men & women, was a field of roaring bonfires. President Hoover could see its fiery glow on the Eastern sky from his White House window. At dawn the place was a charred & blackened ruin. The B. E. F. was gone. Not a shot had been fired by the victorious Army.

The Day’s Toll: Dead, 2; injured, 55: arrested, 135, including Charles P. Ruby. D. S. C., first to greet the President at the New Year’s day reception at the White House in 1931 (TIME, Jan. 12, 1931).

In France Joe Angelo of Camden, N. J. was decorated for saving the life of Major George 0. Patton. At Anacostia Major Patton headed the cavalry that drove Joe Angelo out of his B. E. F. quarters.

“Challenge Met.” During the two months the B. E. F. was in Washington President Hoover silently ignored them. But after he had summoned troops, he also summoned the Press and explained:

“Congress made provision for the return home of the so-called Bonus marchers. . . . Some 5,000 took advantage of the arrangement. . . . An examination of a large number of names discloses the fact that a considerable part of those remaining are not veterans. . . . Many are Communists and persons with criminal records.”

Next day, when the B. E. F. had left, the President more fully expressed his indignation. Said he: “A challenge to the authority of the United States Government has been met, swiftly and firmly. . . . Government cannot be coerced by mob rule. … It is my sincere hope that those agitators who inspired yesterday’s attack upon Federal authority may be brought speedily to trial. . . . There can be no safe harbor in the U. S. for violence. . . . Order and civil tranquillity are the first requisites in the great task of economic reconstruction.”

General MacArthur observed that the B. E. F. “was a bad looking mob animated by the essence of revolution.” A week’s delay by the President, he thought, “would have threatened the institution of our Government.” According to the General, not one man out of ten in the B. E. F. was a “real veteran.”

“Damned Lie!” Commander Waters raged against President Hoover’s assertion that the B. E. F. was Red and criminal. “A damned lie!” he shouted. “Every man is a veteran. We examined the discharge papers of everyone.

“Communists, flattered at drawing White House fire, gladly took all credit for the Washington disturbance.* Most impartial observers, however, doubted if the rioting could be really attributed to them. John Pace was in jail at the time and his handful of Red followers were not identified as actively participating in the fracas.

¶Gertrude Mann, two months, involuntary B. E. F. camp follower, died of malnutrition in Washington’s Gallinger Hospital. In the same hospital lay Bernard Myers, 11 weeks, affected by tear gas.

¶The Government buried Veteran William Hushka in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

On to Johnstown, While the Army “mopped up” the Capital of all B. E. F”. stragglers, Virginia blocked the veterans on the South. Maryland supplied trucks to carry thousands of them to the Pennsylvania line. The Red Cross handled the women & children. Red-headed Mayor Eddie McCloskey of Johnstown. Pa., onetime pants-presser and prizefighter, invited B. E. F. leaders to his city to reorganize their force. Johnstown citizens protested loudly when veterans began to straggle in and bivouac in a fly-ridden amusement park outside town, where another B. E. F. baby was born.

“Khaki Shirts.” Commander Waters, in Washington, announced the B. E. F. would become the nucleus of a political organization to be known as the “Khaki Shirts.” open to all who want “to clean out the high places in government.” “Loyal Americanism” was heavily accented in his declaration. For $1 he purchased 25 wooded acres in Maryland from a Mrs. Maude Edgell, proprietor of a nursing home, who felt “very bitter” about the Battle of Washington. Major L. J. H. Herwig, U. S. A., retired, of Washington, offered them his 400-acre Virginia farm. On these plots Commander Waters proposed to establish “Khaki Shirts” colonies, warned: “If they try to burn us out again, damn ’em we’ll kill ’em.” Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler, retired, flirted with the idea of consolidating the “Khaki Shirts.”

Comment. Most of the nation’s Press approved the manner in which the President had dealt with its B. E. F. Public blame, if any. was placed less on members of the B. E. F. than upon those Representatives & Senators who by agitating full and immediate Bonus payments had lured veterans to Washington and kept them there with false hopes and promises.

When the troops were withdrawn from Washington, Secretary Hurley exulted: “It was a great victory. . . . Mac [General MacArthur] did a great job. He is the man of the hour. (A thoughtful pause.) But I must not make any heroes just now.”

*Near the spot President Garfield was assassinated. *Federal troops were used to put down the “whiskey rebellion” in Pennsylvania (1794), maintain order in “bleeding” Kansas (1856-57) break the Pullman strike in Chicago (1894) and the coal strike in West Virginia (1921). *Last week Reds were accused of starting bank runs in the Mid-west.

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