Department Chaplain: Mike Pollitt
SICK CALL MEMORIAL
The American Legion and “the Law that Worked”
I grew up in a Veteran’s family. My Dad was shot in the chest and neck at the Battle of the Bulge, left to die in the snow. He was captured and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. He lost 75 lbs, mostly from infection and the POW diet of potato-peel soup. Veterans Day and Memorial Day were always big event in my family---major holidays---just like Christmas and Easter!!! We would make the rounds of the Veteran halls, and finish the day at the American Legion Hall in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. They always had great brownies, and this was enough to impress a young boy. I remember the old duffers well within their cups, becoming overly sentimental and talking about the GI Bill. At the time I didn’t know what it was but figured it had to be important. These Vets were first generation college graduates whose parents had worked the textile mills in Southern New England, but now, thanks to the G. I. Bill, had become professionals, even doctors and lawyers. Eventually one of them would take the floor and say,---and you could hear a pin drop, “You what the GI Bill did for us?? It made us as good as anybody else.”
In Michael Bennett’s critically acclaimed book on the American Legion’s role in the passage of the first G.I. Bill, When Dreams Came True: The G.I. Bill and the Making of Modern America, Bennett states that true lasting prosperity returned to America only when the American Legion led G. I. Bill turned the temporary wartime boom into a permanently expanding economy based on readily accessible education, home ownership, and entrepreneurial opportunity. Thanks to the G. I. Bill millions of Veterans leapt over social barriers, and became middle-class homeowners. So many opportunities opened up that the American Dream was soon realized for those who wore our nation’s uniform. The G. I. Bill was really “the law that worked.” It gave birth to America’s middle-class revolution, a revolution that achieved liberal ends by conservative means. It was primarily written by Henry Colmery, a Past National Commander of the American Legion, and it was the only major bill passed by Congress under President Franklin Roosevelt that was not part of the New Deal. Bennett states that most governmental laws prefer to tell people what to do rather than exercise a kind of leadership that puts the power into the hand of it citizens; the G. I. Bill does exactly that to this day.
Bennett echoes the words of our founder, Medal of Honor recipient Teddy Roosevelt Jr’s maxim of taking “people as they [are] but [getting] the best out of them.” As an organization the American Legion has always lived up to this ideal. There is no greater example of this than its leadership role in pressuring Congress to pass this legislation. It was pivotal in convincing a reluctant FDR that it was the right thing to do for the sixteen million men and women in uniform in 1945. This was no easy task. As General Frank Hines, the former head of the VA, explained the situation, the G. I. Bill with its vouchers created a direct benefit to the Veteran. FDR had favored a plan that would send the funds to the colleges and universities, and these schools would decide whether the Veteran would receive funding based solely on IQ tests that the institutions would administer. The American Legion would have none of this and fought tooth and nail to achieve an eleventh hour victory that literally changed the face of America.
The G. I. Bill did so much for the Veteran but also for our nation. Take Henry Kissinger for example. Kissinger began CCNY---City College of New York---in 1940. Back then it was more difficult to get into CCNY than Columbia. When WWII came about Kissinger served in the Army and was discharge in 1945. Under the GI Bill he transferred to Harvard, and the rest is history. When we think of the greatness of America we need look no further than to our Veterans and what they have done for this great nation of ours. We will soon be celebrating the 73rd Anniversary of the GI Bill--- and with each passing year it could very well be the last anniversary of the original recipients. I’ve wondered why there isn’t something like a lapel pin from the Department of Veterans Affairs to toot its horn. God knows it could use some good PR these days! Every recipient would be encouraged to wear it for one year, beginning with say Kissinger.
The Servicemen’s Reajustment Act of 1944 (or simply the G. I. Bill) gave Veterans the means to make new lives in peacetime. As Michael Bennett says, “Above all, the G. I. Bill changed the way the Veteran and his/her family…regardless of their ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds began to think of themselves….The G. I. Bill--- the law that worked---is one of America’s greatest success stories.” Post 9/11 recipients of today’s G. I. Bill should be reminded, when asked what membership in the American Legion accomplishes, that without the American Legion, and the other Service Organizations, there would be no G. I. Bill. A tenet of true faith isthankfulness and as a recipient of the G. I. Bill I say to the American Legion a heartfelt,