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This Day In History: The GI Bill Was Passed

To celebrate the anniversary of the G.I. Bill we have excerpted a piece from the beginning of The G.I. Bill: A New Deal For Veterans, by Glenn C. Altschuler and Stuart M. Blumin which looks at just how beneficial the G.I Bill was not only for troops but for all of America.  Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies and the Dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions at Cornell University.  Stuart M. Blumin is Professor Emeritus of American History, Cornell University.

In its final form, the GI Bill appropriated $500 million for the construction of facilities for veterans, including hospitals; authorized unemployment compensation of $20 per week for a maximum of fifty-two weeks, with job placement services available under the U.S. Employment Service; provided up to four years of education and training at an annual tuition rate of as much as $500 (and a monthly stipend of $50 for single men and women and $75 for those with dependents) to GIs who had served at least ninety days, with the presumption that the schooling of all veterans who enlisted or were drafted before their twenty-fifth birthday had been interrupted; and guaranteed 50 percent of farm, home and business loans of up to $2,000-much less than the maximum amount originally proposed by the American Legion-at an interest rate no higher than 4 percent.

Roosevelt signed the bill on June 22, with most of the House-Senate conferees and representatives of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in attendance…Speaking briefly at the signing, Roosevelt claimed paternity for a measure his administration had neither introduced to nor steered through Congress, noting at the outset that it “carried out most of the recommendations” he had made in three speeches to the nation in 1943.  More important, perhaps, was the president’s notion of the core idea among the bill’s various programs.  To Roosevelt, this was neither educational opportunity nor government-guaranteed residential loans but the successful transition of millions of veterans from military service to civilian work.  He singled out “satisfactory employment” as the most urgent need of service personnel and concluded that the GI Bill would help meet that need.  It was for this reason, above all, that the bill delivered an “emphatic notice” to veterans “that the American people did not intend to let them down.”

The passage of the GI bill was, of course, covered by the popular press.  However, the legislation did not receive editorial comment in the New York Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Daily Tribune, Des Moines Register, San Francisco Chronicle, or Los Angeles Times. The White House signing ceremony competed with news about the allied invasion of Europe, which had occured less than three weeks earlier.  More important, along with the nation’s politicians, jounralists did not deem the bill “histroric” or “iconic” but rather, as a writer for the New Republic predicted, 800,000-100,000 returning soldiers would use them.

With an assist from vererans’ organizations, the Veterans Administration scrambled to inform GIs of their rights.  As they were discharged, soldiers and sailors received a VA pamphlet, Going Back to Civilian Life, and a Handbook for Service Men and Service Women of World War II and Their Dependents, which laid out the key provisions of the GI Bill.  The American Legion distributed 2.7 million copies of Gateway to Opportunity, which contained capsule descriptions of all of the benefits, and a half million “Open Letter to GIs” folders, which reviewed the loan provisions.

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