Probably today’s younger generation never heard of the GI Bill. It was a very significant happening in American history. The benefits from it changed the lives of thousands of military veterans.
The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 — better known as the GI Bill — had a tremendous impact on America, socially, economically and politically. It is heralded as one of the most significant legislations ever approved by Congress.
The legislation was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt June 22, 1944.
This past June 22 was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the legislation. The anniversary passed with little fanfare — hardly mentioned.
There were many benefits from it for veterans with perhaps the main one being that it provided a college education for veterans of World War II. Young men and women in the 1940s and 1950s who had served in the military were eligible for higher education through the GI Bill. The peak year was 1947 when about half of college students were veterans.
The GI Bill paid for just about everything — tuition, fees and books. The Vets lived well off the benefits although many of the campuses didn’t have enough housing. At MU, veterans lived in surplus Army barracks with potbelly stoves for heat. That area of the MU campus was called “Pneumonia Gulch.” Homeowners in Columbia converted attics, basements, even garages, into living spaces for students, most of them veterans. The rush was on to build dormitories. Housing was a crisis.
We knew veterans who had some money left after all college expenses were paid and spending money in veterans’ pockets was common. Some veterans held part-time jobs also.
The veterans were serious students. They wanted to make up time lost in the military and were in a hurry for a college degree that offered better job opportunities. Most of the veterans who benefited from the GI Bill were the first in their families to earn a college degree.
If it were not for the GI Bill most of the veterans would not have been able to get a college degree or some other type of post-high school education. The GI Bill raised the educational level in the United States to a record level.
One of the controversial benefits of the original GI Bill was unemployment compensation, called the 52-20 Club, or something like that, which stood for $20 a week for a year if unemployed. There also was a home or farm loan provision for veterans, and a job counseling benefit.
Of note is that less than 20 percent of the money in the bill for unemployment aid was used.
The GI Bill has been updated over the years. The original bill expired in 1956. The original bill was designed by The American Legion. Since the federal government did such a poor job of helping veterans after World War I, another episode like that wanted to be avoided.
The GI Bill was modified through the passage of the Forever GI Bill in 2017 by Congress.
One of the other significant happenings to come out of World War II was that for the first time women entered the workforce in large numbers because most men were in the military. Women and boys did men’s work.
The GI Bill and women entering the workforce in large numbers resulted in culture changes in this country. Wars do that!