Harry Colmery, Drafter of Servicemen’s Readjustment Act**
To help World War II veterans make a smooth transition back to civilian life, the U.S. government provided them with low-interest loans to put toward education, business startups, and housing expenses. The program, known as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, or more commonly, the “G.I. Bill of Rights,” also contained the 52-20 provision, which paid veterans $20 per week for up to 52 weeks while seeking employment.
According to the Veterans Administration (VA), a total of 7.8 million World War II vets took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get an education, and nearly 2.4 million benefited from VA-backed home loans. Less than 20 percent of the United States’ 16 million eligible veterans participated in the 52-20 program.*
“Never again do we want to see the honor and glory of our nation fade to the extent that her men of arms, with despondent heart and palsied limb, totter from door to door, bowing their souls to the frozen bosom of reluctant charity.”
American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery, after helping draft the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in the winter of 1943-1944**
As the author of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, Colmery acted as the national catalyst to offer opportunity to the 15 million men and women returning from duty. R.B. Pitkin, editor of “The American Legion Magazine”, became a key figure in consolidating grassroots proposals, summarizes them into the following objectives.
Vocational on-the-job training
Home, farm and business loans
Review of discharges
Adequate health care
Prompt settlement of disability claims
Mustering-out pay (removed from the bill after it was enacted separately)
Effective veteran employment services
Concentration of all veterans functions in the Veterans Administration ***
How did this look in the North Star state? Soon after the end of the war, nearly half the students in Minnesota colleges and universities are World War II veterans studying under the benefits of the G.I. Bill.**
For example, 25,000 vets enrolled at the University of Minnesota in this period; the most of anywhere in the nation. Local private college attendance also ballooned with returning vets; Bethel University had to expand from a two-year program to a four-year program to meet the demand.****
Yet, one wonders, how did this program impact the lives of its participants? Below are a few quotes from interviews with WWII veterans, conducted by writer Kevyn Burger.****
“Without the GI Bill, I never would have gone to college and I would have lived with disappointment… I had a hunger for learning I had to satisfy.”
Jeanne Bearmon, Women’s Army Corps.
“The GI Bill was fantastic, I got $75 a month to live on. That was plenty, more than enough. I had a nice room a few blocks from campus for $7 a week.”
Sherman Garon, US Army
Lord, there is something so beautiful about debts repaid, it’s almost indescribable! We commend these returning vets of WWII before You. We are doubly-honored as we think of them; they showed total commitment to freedom and freedom’s G-d, and our society echoed back its gratitude! What seems so exceptional about them is that they never seemed to expect payback from America?!
Of course, this is a generalization, but the circumstantial evidence and their testimonies prove it true over and over again. It reminds me of Your Holy Word.
“And that’s how it should be with you. When you’ve done all you should, then say, “We are merely servants, and we have simply done our duty.” Luke 17:10 CEV
What a joy it must have been to give this small token, the GI Bill, to those so humble and who so thoroughly utilized it?
We also specifically commend Colmery and Pitkin to You. We thank you for their gifts of vision and its administration. Will You bless our state and nation with similar leadership and administration? We perpetually need both dreamers and the activators of dreams; Will You give us the grace to do our role?
In contrast, we confess the limitations of administering the GI Bill in the present: it seems so bureaucratic, it feels un-relational, and the benefits seem far smaller than the costs of administering them. Our society wants to give to vets, it puts money in the offering plate, but somehow only $1 out of $7 seems to reach the hand that needs it. Will You help us with this problem? Will You stop our bickering over the amount we should give, and let us draw a straighter line between giver and receiver?
In the same way, we note the increase in the costs of education and student housing. Returning vets now routinely pay seventy to a hundred times the costs these servicemen and women paid for tuition and student housing?! Too many of these young men and women start their lives saddled with debt, yet they have taken the same risks as their forbearers; doing their duty up to the cost of their lives!
Presently, it feels as though we have lost our empathy for them. We are an heinously distracted people, continuously diverted from paying attention to real people and real relationships. Will You kindly reveal our GI Bill of wrongs, and the heart attitudes that foist scorn on the selfless service of others? Have mercy Lord, we don’t fully understand the depths of their sacrifice, nor of Yours!
“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14:4 BSB*****
Minnesota Department of the American Legion. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN. 1944. http://www.mnhs.org/mgg/artifact/gibill_rights
*** Pitkin, R.B. “The American Legion Magazine”. Jan.-Mar. 1969 ibid.
**** Burger, Kevyn, “GI Bill gave Minnesota veterans a path to the middle class”. StarTribune, Minneapolis, MN. 11-11-2014 Variety Section. (Kevyn Burger is a freelance writer and a newscaster at BringMeTheNews.com.)