The Bonus, A Novel
By Georgia Lowe

The Synopsis

The Bonus, A Novel by Georgia Lowe

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On Valentine’s Day in 1929, Will Hardy, an ambitious young reporter for the Chicago Tribune, covers a vicious gangland shooting, then blacks out. Days later, a bone-chilling scream wakens him, and he finds himself tethered to a hospital bed. Barely awake, he hears groans and mutters, and stammering, and his past becomes the present. He’s back in a shellshock ward.

Determined to get his life back, Will slowly emerges from his shock and, following a medic’s advice, checks himself out of the hospital and heads to Los Angeles, “where all the pretty women are and all the violence is in the movies.” In L.A., he’s hired as a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald Express.

Now, in May, 1932, unemployment stands at 25%, millions of families are without food and shelter. Among the hardest hit are veterans of the World War. In Washington, a bill goes before Congress to pay their long delayed wartime bonuses, and 22,000 desperate vets march together to the Capitol and lobby for passage of the Bonus Bill. They are the BEF, the Bonus Expeditionary Force.

Will, who finds comfort by denying his wartime experiences, no longer considers himself a veteran. But when the Herald assigns him to accompany the L.A. contingent of Bonus Marchers to Washington, he’s forced to confront his past.

Will’s girlfriend, the beautiful Bonnie, who works as a movie extra, decides to follow Will to Washington. Myrna, her best friend, goes with her but on the way they stop in Oklahoma to check on Myrna’s family and farm. What they find in this Dust Bowl hell is that the farm is half buried in sand dunes, and the family is starving. Myrna must stay to help, and Bonnie travels on to Washington with Charlie, a good looking trumpet player they befriend on a Greyhound bus. Charlie, a black man passing for white, is loaded with cash and on the run from the L.A. mob.

In Washington, President Herbert Hoover, isolated and ill-advised, is immersed in his reelection campaign. He believes the bonus conflict “will work itself out without his interference,” and that the soul’s salvation demands hard work and self-sacrifice, not welfare. But, the Police Chief, Pelham Glassford, a former Army Brigadier General, is sympathetic to the bonus cause and works alone to provide food and shelter for the veterans and their families. He’s revered by the BEF but increasingly reviled by the Hoover administration. It’s up to him to keep the peace.

In July, J. Edgar Hoover convinces the President that the bonus marchers are communists conspiring to overthrow the government. The President, frightened by their continued presence, orders General Douglas MacArthur, the Army Chief of Staff, to use the Army to evict them. MacArthur gathers his troops the afternoon of July 28. A huge crowd of veterans and civilians gather on Pennsylvania Avenue to watch what they think will be a grand military parade. MacArthur, followed by mounted cavalry soldiers, Whippet tanks, 600 gas-masked and armed infantrymen with bayonets at the ready, leads the attack. Foot soldiers toss tear gas canisters into the crowd of spectators. The cavalry charges. The crowd panics and are swept away in a fog of tear gas.

Dismayed by MacArthur’s overreaction, Hoover orders him to stop at the Anacostia River and not enter the BEF main camp. But Will, now back to work after experiencing frightening flashbacks, is on the Anacostia Bridge where he sees and hears MacArthur receive the direct presidential order. He follows as MacArthur disobeys the order and leads the troops across the bridge into the main camp, where they again deploy tear gas to disperse the  women and children along with a few veterans who have stayed behind. To make sure no one or nothing remains, the troops torch their shanties, shacks and tents containing all their meager belongings.

Glassford, outraged by the attack, gives Will the inside story of how the veterans were deceived by false promises, then accused of provoking the attack. They had not.

Will’s exclusive story is printed above the fold on the front page of the Herald under his by-line, and he’s assigned to follow the presidential campaign of the Democrat candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

On November 5th, the night before the general election, Will and Bonnie, now his wife, are at Madison Square Garden as FDR gives his final speech of the campaign. The next day, he’s the elected in a landslide by a public disgusted by the government’s treatment of their veterans and the continuing economic hardship. The New Deal is born, America’s future is forever altered.

Now so many years later, history repeats itself. The unemployment rate is sky high, too many homes are lost to foreclosure, and we are challenged by continuing environmental disasters. Sadly, our veterans are still in need of comprehensive care and fair treatment. In 2008, as in 1932, a new president, campaigning on the twin promises of hope and change, was elected.

The drama continues.