On July 28, 1932, during the Great Depression, U.S. troops, backed by tanks and tear gas-filled bombs, surrounded protesters in Washington. 43,000 protesters, including 17,000 World War I veterans, led by Walter Waters, gathered to protest the non-payment of bonuses promised to war veterans. They pitched tents on state land on the banks of the Anacostia River. They were nicknamed the “Bonus Expeditionary Corps”. Many of them were on the brink of poverty and unemployed.
Previous protests passed without incident. The bonus pay bill passed in the House of Representatives, but fell in the Senate, angering protesters and they refused to return home. President Herbert Hoover ordered the protesters, including women and children, to be dispersed from state land, which was done using tear gas and brute force. Soldiers under General MacArthur set fire to the protesters’ tents. Two people were killed, 55 were injured and 135 were arrested. The bonuses, however, were paid out in 1936.